Can Burning Lots of Calories Be as Easy as Standing at Work?


By Michael Ormsbee, PhDFlorida State University
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, The Great Courses Daily

Did you know that in a typical work week (before staying at home in 2020), people spend, on average, almost six hours per day sitting at their desks? Thankfully, there’s an easy fix. Professor Ormsbee explains.

You can increase exercise per your fitness plan goals by making small adjustments like taking the stairs at work and walking more often. Photo By Sutthi Chuvichit / Shutterstock

Does Standing Burn Calories?

Developing good habits such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator is just as important as exercising when it comes to achieving your ideal body composition. Even standing can make a major difference when it comes to burning calories.

“I’ve been working on this, too,” Professor Ormsbee said. “I noticed that at work, I was just sitting down way too much. I exercise most days of the week in a confined period of time, but I was pretty sedentary otherwise. So I got on the bandwagon and bought a stand-up desk for my office.”

It turns out that changing to a standing desk can reduce your risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and overall mortality risk. You may be wondering, though, if it can also help to improve your body composition. How many calories can you really burn just by standing more? 

Your heart rate naturally increases as you change from lying down to sitting to standing, and the difference from sitting to standing is approximately 5–10 beats/minute, which equates to 0.35 to 0.7 calories/minute. This adds up to somewhere between 25–50 calories/hour from a simple change. Given that the average person spends five hours and 41 minutes/day sitting at their desk, simply standing instead of sitting could burn almost 285 calories.

Take note that if you stand, you’ll probably want to start standing for short periods and work up to standing longer durations. Also, make sure you keep shifting around while you do stand. 

Making Simple Habits

Overall, simple habitual changes make an impact. By walking up or down three flights of stairs and standing at your desk instead of sitting, you can burn almost 350 more calories per day.

This is without taking into consideration any additional physical activity or exercise you do throughout the day including gardening, doing dishes, or walking your dog. Over the course of a week, a month, or a year, the daily marginal gains add up to great health and body composition implications. 

Improved health and body composition do not happen overnight. Changing habits over the long haul are what really make the difference, and small changes as well as larger ones matter.

Exercise is important to ensure that your body is strong and healthy enough to meet the challenges that you encounter on a daily basis. Eating less will help you lose weight, but weight loss from dieting alone may actually result in losing muscle mass and maybe even rebounding back to a higher weight than you started with.

Thus, some sort of exercise regimen is vital for a healthy expenditure of calories. Exercise needs to be included in any kind of fitness plan in order to improve health and body composition, not simply body weight.

Several types of exercise can help you reach your goals—from small adjustments like taking the stairs at work; walking around more; and perhaps even getting a stand-up desk, if you have a desk job—to full-blown structured exercise plans.

Keep It Simple

Just like a well-functioning car needs routine care of its components and parts—the body needs a combination of proper fueling and exercise to optimize its potential. While there are many fitness plans available to help you improve your body composition—some more efficient than others—find a plan that works for you and stick to it.

Often people can get bogged down in the science and the fine details of exercise, nutrition, and health, but it’s simple. If you take calories in, you must have opportunities to burn them off and keep an energy balance. 

Plus, exercise helps you in so many other ways to improve health. At the same time, the quality of your calorie intake is critical to successful body composition change that is permanent.

One of the most important factors in determining whether or not your plan will work is adherence and consistency. Thus, as you set your fitness goals, the best guarantee that you’ll stay consistent with your activity or exercise plan is that you have fun with it and look forward to it. 

Exercise is a great way to feel good, get outdoors, meet new people, and just enjoy the world you live in.

Make a conscious effort to stay physically active, and this will ultimately manifest itself into better nutritional practices and feeling and looking better. The fine details may be important to some professional athletes, but just making small adjustments and committing to being more physically active will ultimately lead you to a healthier lifestyle and body composition.

This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for The Great Courses Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for The Great Courses Daily.

Michael Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University. He received his MS in Exercise Physiology from South Dakota State University and his PhD in Bioenergetics from East Carolina University.

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