Fans of standing desks say they can help you get out of your chair more throughout the day, counteracting the negative health effects of too much sitting. But when it comes to weight loss, a standing desk isn’t a magic bullet.
Although standing periodically has some advantages over periods of prolonged sitting, it isn’t a form of exercise, and by itself, more standing won’t help you lose weight. “I view it as a continuum, with sitting on one end and bona fide exercise on the other,” says Jamie Burr, PhD, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Guelph in Ontario. “The closer we can move toward exercise, the better. Thus, standing moves the needle a little. Walking [or] cycling even more.”
Some research shows obese adults sit for 2–3 hours more per day than lean adults, which increases their risk of heart disease, diabetes and all-cause mortality. Spending stretches of time throughout the day standing helps to break up long periods of sitting. Whether or not you’re overweight, standing is good for your health, since it can increase blood flow and improve posture, preventing aches and pains.
However, standing doesn’t add physical activity to your day, promote aerobic exercise or help you burn enough calories to lose weight. One study found participants expended 12% more energy while standing compared to sitting, which was the equivalent of about 9–10 additional calories per hour. But most people don’t stand long enough for this to make a difference.
“If it was 12% higher for the whole day, that might be useful, but people don’t tend to stand all day,” says study author James Betts, PhD, professor of metabolic physiology at the University of Bath in England. “They tend to only do that for an hour or two. [And] if it’s an hour and a half with 12% more, that’s not a big difference. [The] calories per day doesn’t stack up to be a meaningful amount.”
There are more health advantages to using a treadmill desk than a standing desk, according to some research, because treadmill walking incorporates physical activity, while standing is a sedentary behavior. Some experts argue periods of standing may encourage people to walk more than they would if they were still seated.
“Standing breaks up sitting time and may also predispose [people] to more bouts of walking — that is, if already standing, it’s easy to take some steps,” says Burr, the study author. Even if it’s just a lap around the block or your house, some walking is better than none.
Whether or not you have a standing desk, it’s a good idea to alternate between periods of sitting and standing throughout the day. “We know prolonged standing isn’t the solution because you don’t get any particular health benefits,” says Betts. Furthermore, when you are standing all day (think factory jobs), it could lead to injuries like plantar fasciitis.
Instead of sitting for hours on end, set an alarm reminder to stand up 2–3 times per hour. “This could be alternating standing [and] sitting, or better yet, getting up and going for a short walk,” says Burr. “As little as two minutes (i.e., a trip to refill your water glass) can positively affect blood glucose [and] triglyceride levels.”
If weight loss is your goal, add walking (or another form of exercise, like cycling) into your routine regularly. Aiming for 200–300 minutes of walking per week has been shown to help with weight loss. If that seems like a lot, start small and work your way there.