Timed nicely to coincide with the annual New Year commitment to improving general fitness levels, a new academic study from researchers at Bath University and Westmont College in California has found that people who use sit-stand workstations typically consume 12% more energy while standing than they do while sitting.
The team led by James Betts, a professor of metabolic physiology concluded that it takes significantly more muscle effort to work while standing than it does in more sedentary postures. They found that as well as a range of other health benefits such as a reduction in the incidence of back and upper limb pain, as well as improved circulation and comfort, ‘the proliferation of height-adjustable workstations… has the potential … to facilitate effective management of body mass’.
For the study, which was published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, asked a group of otherwise healthy people switch between sitting and standing and to monitor how many calories they burned in the process. The researchers asked participants about their general health and exercise routines and then determined their average daily energy expenditure by fitting them with masks that measured their metabolic rate.
The study found that merely standing to work increases energy consumption by about 10 calories an hour. Although not in itself a large increase, over the course of a typical working day this adds up to roughly the amount by which people tend to overeat each day, driving the propensity people have to gain weight.
The study concludes that although standing to work might not act to reduce weight gain, it would not necessarily help people to lose weight. ‘The focus should be on regularly interrupting prolonged sedentary behaviours, both sitting and standing still, to insert physical activity that gives your muscles some work to do and adds to your rate of energy expenditure’, it concludes.
The findings back up previous research from 2016 published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. As in the more recent study, the researchers from the University of Pittsburgh fitted healthy people with masks that measured oxygen consumption to determine how many calories they burned while doing computer work, standing, or walking on a treadmill.
They found that while sitting, people burned an average of 80 calories per hour but while standing, the number of calories burned was slightly higher than while sitting, about 88 calories per hour. Meanwhile walking burned 210 calories per hour.
The two studies prove what we already know. In order to improve our health and wellbeing, it is essential that we have the opportunity to change posture and move around. Sit-stand workstations may not actually reduce weight but they are an increasingly essential part of a shift in lifestyles and habits that should last all year round.