Standing vs. Sitting: Which Burns More Calories?

by Marixie Ann Obsioma, MT, undergrad MD on January 28, 2020
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Did you know that there is a difference between the total numbers of calories burned to stand vs. sitting?

Just by standing, you can actually lose more calories in an hour than when you are sitting down. About how much? Well, first, we have to understand how our bodies consume calories first.

How Do We Burn Calories?

Each calorie stands for a measure of energy spent and energy stored in the body. Many slogans have reiterated that a “calorie is a calorie.” Saying goodbye to overeating is an important measure to prevent any form of weight gain. But aside from limiting food quantity, you must also focus on choosing high-quality foods (1). 

The calories consumed in the diet and spent in exercises are expressed in kilocalories (kcals). This is further defined as the energy needed to increase the temperature of a kilogram of water by 1 C (2). A calorie, on the other hand, is considered as the amount of heat needed to achieve a 1 C increase in temperature of 1g of water. These days, calories are expressed in joules (J). One kcal is equal to 4.2 kJ.

If you are wondering about the total calories you burn in one day, then it will depend on the activities you take and your current weight. A study conducted on a 125-pound person, a 155-pound person, and a 185-pound person who did dozens of activities for thirty minutes showed that the number of calories burned is greater with increased weight (3). For instance, after weight lifting, the 125-pound individual lost 90 calories, while the 155-pound and 185-pound individuals lost 112 calories and 133 calories, respectively. 

Also, it has been proven that sex is also a major contributing factor in the calorie-burning equation. Men, in general, have lower body fat content than women. Add to that, they also have more muscle mass. Overall, more muscle mass means that men can expend more calories than women.

What are the Factors that Affect Calorie Burning Abilities?

A lot of people always associate calories with food and losing weight. Food indeed contains calories. Each food has a specific calorie count, which signifies the total amount of energy potential it has. 

We eat different types of food. There are three basic categories, namely carbohydrates, proteins, and fats (4). Carbohydrates and protein contain about 4 calories in every gram, while fats have 9 calories in one gram.

A lot of factors can determine how many calories you burn in one day, Some of these factors are uncontrollable, but some can be manipulated. 

These factors include:

  • Age. As you get older, the calories you burn in one day become fewer.
  • Sex. Men, as mentioned previously, burn more calories than women. 
  • Daily Activities. With increased activity, you burn more calories.
  • Body Size. Larger people consume more calories compared to those who are smaller.
  • Body Composition. With increased muscle mass, it is easier to burn more calories.
  • Thermogenesis. This refers to the energy the amount of body used to digest the food.
  • Pregnancy and Breastfeeding. Pregnant women and breastfeeding moms burn more calories compared to non-pregnant women.

Understanding how you can burn more calories in one day is a good way to gauge how to lose or gain weight. By identifying the calorie-burning factors can help you change up your regimen and diet to reach your goal. 

One popular method to find out the exact number of calories burned in one day is the Harris-Benedict Formula. This method has been around since the early 20th century. In 1984, it was modified to make the method more precise and reliable. With the Harris-Benedict Equation, basal energy expenditure can be measured and adjusted according to height, age, weight, and gender of an individual (5). The process is not rocket science. You only have to multiply your basal metabolic rate with the average daily activity level. BMR is the number of calories that a person burns by something as mundane as breathing. It involves all the bodily processes. 

How to Calculate BMR:

 

  • MEN: 66  (6.2 x wt) + (12.7 x ht) – (6.76 x age)

 

  • WOMEN: 655.1 + (4.35 x wt) + (4.7 x ht) – (4.7 x age)

What you get from above is then multiplied by the activity level of your activity. Below are the guidelines for that:

  • 1.2 points for individuals who only do little or possibly zero exercise
  • 1.36 points for individuals who perform light exercises 1 to 3 days a week
  • 1.55 points for individuals who perform moderate level exercises 3 to 5 days a week
  • 1.725 points for individuals who perform difficult exercises 6 to 7 days a week
  • 1.9 points for individuals who do challenging routine and have got a physically demanding job

How Many Calories Do We Burn Standing Up?

Standing instead of sitting down is considered a favorable move to improve your health. In fact, it was predicted that in the next seven years, standing desks might reach beyond $2.8 million in sales (6). You have probably heard someone tell you that standing burns twice more calories than sitting. It is hard to confirm this claim because numerous factors affect the caloric burn. 

One review initially looked into over 658 studies related to the subject of calorie burn when standing versus sitting down (7). Eventually, they settled with just 46 studies that utilized only about 1,200 participants. The goal of the review was to find the mean difference in energy spent between standing up and sitting down done in all studies. All of which have addressed age, weight, gender, fitness level, and other factors that can affect the results. It was assessed that the mean difference in calories spent while standing up and sitting down was 0.15 kcal per minute. For women, it is lower than that. In all the studies conducted, it seems like randomized trials showed the most drastic differences. The range starts from 0.12 to 0.28 kcal per minute.

As the study suggested by substituting sitting down with standing up while working for six hours in one day, a 65 kg (143 pounds) person will end up spending an additional 54 kcal in just one day, given that there is no increase in energy intake. This small difference in energy expenditure can be converted into an energy content of almost 2.5 kg (5.5 pounds) of body fat mass for a year.

There were also talks that standing can cause you to burn anywhere from 100 to 200 calories an hour. Sitting is said to burn 130 calories in one hour. If this is a fact, then you can easily burn an additional 120 to 210 calories just by standing up for three hours. These might not be enough to lose weight, but it certainly will help you maintain your existing weight and lower the risk of developing chronic diseases.

Why does Standing Burn More Calories?

Sitting and lying down burn the least number of calories. When standing up, you are on your feet. Muscle mass gets activated, which results in more calories getting burned. Also, when you are standing up, you have an increased tendency to do more movements. Simple actions like tapping your foot and doing arm stretches can do you good in the long run.

What are the Benefits of Standing?

Standing up can help maintain your weight, boost your mood, energy levels, and productivity, and  lower the risk of developing certain diseases:

1. Enhances Mood and Energy Levels

Standing appears to have a positive influence on overall health and well-being. People who used standing desks had less stress and fatigue as compared to those who sat all day at work (8). More so, over 85% of those using standing desks have increased vigor and energy throughout the day. Such findings correlate with research on sitting and mental health conditions, which links a sedentary lifestyle with a greater risk of anxiety and depression (9, 10).

2. Boosts Productivity

One common concern about the use of standing desks is that they may limit tasks like typing. While standing at work may take time to get used to, the standing desk appears to have no significant impact on such work tasks. One study showed that the use of a standing desk for approximately 4 hours daily did not affect the characters typed per minute of 60 young office employees (11). Considering that standing enhances mood and energy, the use of standing desks is more likely to improve productivity too! 

3. Increases Longevity

Evidence has found a strong association between increased sitting time and early death. This should not be surprising provided that a sedentary lifestyle is known to cause type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 

A review of fewer than 20 studies found those who sat for extended hours are at 49% greater risk of dying early as compared to those who sat the least (12). Another evidence showed that reducing sitting time to 3 hours daily can help increase one’s life expectancy by two years (13). 

4. Decreases Risks of Diseases

 

  • Weight Gain and Obesity

 

While exercising is the most effective way to burn calories faster, choosing to stand instead of sitting can be of great help. When compared to an afternoon of sedentary work, the same amount of time spent standing has been proven to burn more than 170 extra calories (14). That is more than 100 additional calories burned weekly! This explains why sitting longer is strongly associated with obesity and other metabolic diseases (15, 16).

 

  • Diabetes

 

One study demonstrated how the standing period could be important in the foot loading condition, which is necessary when treating diabetic foot ulceration (17).

 

  • Heart Attack

 

Several studies suggest that the more time spent sitting down, the higher the chances of developing cardiovascular diseases (18).

 

  • Stroke

 

Not only does standing up prevents the occurrence of stroke, but it has also been proven that standing up early after suffering from stroke has been considered a priority (19).

 

  • Cancer

 

According to many articles sitting down is bad and can lead to a variety of chronic problems. Cancer is one of them (20).

 

  • Spine Problems

 

Spine problems such as lordosis where the curve of your lordotic is too inward ow swayback. Sitting can lead to a reduction in lumbar lordosis and sacral scope leading to a spinopelvic imbalance and lower back pain (21).

Also, since standing up activates the muscle mass, it can also improve muscle tone. More muscles are consistently engaged when you are standing up compared to when you are sitting on a chair.

Can You Ever Stand A Little Too Much?

Too much of anything is bad. When it comes to your posture, standing for a long time will certainly be bad for you. In one study, 20 adults were observed as they do two hours of standing computer work (22). By the second hour, the participants were not as mentally able as they were in the beginning. Additionally, the participants experienced having swollen lower limbs and general body discomfort. On a positive note, the participants’ problem-solving prowess improved.

What are Other Negative Effects of Sitting for Long Hours?

Not to sound morbid, but according to a study in 2016, sitting down for more than 3 hours a day is considered to be the reason for more than 430,  000 deaths in over 54 countries (23).

Sedentary time spent sitting or lying down has a direct correlation to the build-up of visceral fat (15). Sitting down is even worse for those who do little to no exercise.  This is terrifying because, in the US, people spend an average of 12 hours sitting down on their tushes (24).

Unfortunately, promising to double your efforts at the gym will not make up for sitting down 12 hours a day (25). So, we have to lower the amount of time sitting down by standing up more often.

How to Stand Up More Each Day?

It may seem challenging, in the beginning, to slowly increase your standing time with 5 to 10-minute increments, but you can do it so long as you start trying. You can eventually increase the minutes from there. For starters, you can try standing up for a minute or two after 30 minutes of sitting down and working. You can either remain upright until whenever you feel like sitting down, or you can sit after a minute and wait for another 30 minutes before standing up again.

What Can You Do At Home?

Increasing your standing period requires a change of routine at home. You can begin by incorporating the following simple steps:

  1. Walk around your house every 30 mins or 60 mins
  2. When on the phone or texting, stand up. You can even do the same when checking your Facebook or Instagram.
  3. Before hitting the bed, take a long unwinding walk around the neighborhood. Once you get home, take a warm bath or shower, read the book, and enjoy a good night’s sleep.
  4. Stand up while watching a movie or a television series episode.

What Can You Do At Work?

People might think it is weird that you constantly get up from your chair and walk around the office, but who cares if it will help you live a better and healthier life, right? But if this little stint will cause you to become unproductive at work, here are a couple of other ways to try standing more while working:

  1. Get a standing desk.
  2. If you have to make a call or a text, stand up.
  3. Try to implement a stand-up style of meeting. So, you will not end up sitting down.
  4. Time your sitting. Once it alarms after an hour, take a walk.

You can try investing in a sole insert, which can help lessen the fatigue and soreness your feet might experience if you suddenly start standing up or walking more every day. Supportive shoes are also available to ensure that you will not lose your balance and alignment when standing up at work.

Key Takeaway

No one said it is wrong to spend time sitting down. At school and in some workplaces, no one has a choice. But try looking for ways to remain upright. For instance, while waiting at the bus stop, stand up instead of taking a seat. Remember, you are the best person to come up with strategies that can help you increase your standing time.

References

  1. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/best-diet-quality-counts/
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/kilocalorie
  3. http://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/calories-burned-in-30-minutes-of-leisure-and-routine-activities
  4. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319731.php
  5. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1179/147683008X344129
  6. https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2018/02/25/how-many-more-calories-does-standing-really-burn-over-sitting/?fbclid=IwAR3gPmsg6dgPpYtXbgpM5l_8cd5H8wgNSCa7VfSx-r83ERkHDrjZbCK30YI#51ae9a2c6d3d
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29385357
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23057991
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24121248
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26088005
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19750794
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22890825
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22777603
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24297826
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25599350
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15681386
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2963510/
  18. http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2091327
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5865293/
  20. https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/sitting-time-linked-to-higher-risk-of-death-from-all-causes.html
  21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4591449/
  22. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00140139.2017.1420825?scroll=top&needAccess=true&journalCode=terg20
  23. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/308314.php
  24. https://www.juststand.org/the-facts/
  25. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/312356.php

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