New study says using a standing desk doesn't burn calories

Herman Miller's action office
© Herman Miller

This is my last day on the wonderful LifeSpan Treadmill that I have been reviewing; tomorrow it is back to just standing. Coincidentally, it is the day that Gretchen Reynolds of the New York Times throws some cold water on one of the main benefits touted for standing desks: that it burns more calories than sitting. She quotes a new study by Seth Creasy and team at Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center, University of Pittsburgh, which found that the difference in calories burned between sitting and standing was negligible. If you want to burn calories you have to move as well. The study divided volunteers into four groups:

One group was asked to sit and type at a computer for 15 minutes and then stand up for 15 minutes, moving around and fidgeting as little as possible. Another group also sat for 15 minutes, but watched a television screen and didn’t type. Afterward, they immediately moved to a treadmill and walked for 15 minutes at a gentle, strolling pace. The third group stood up for 15 minutes and then sat down for 15 minutes. And the final group walked on the treadmills for 15 minutes and then sat.

Standing and working burned all of 8 or 9 calories per hour more than sitting; walking on the treadmill: 150. Creasy tells Rubin that people should work a little walking into their routine; “standing up may not be enough.”

action office© Herman Miller

However I think a case can be made that people who work at a standing desk actually do walk more; it's so easy. I often wander up and down the hall as I try to put words together in my head; when you are already standing it is much less of a step, so to speak. When Bob Propst designed the Action Office for Herman Miller, it was all about movement from one function to another. Creasy's study looked at fifteen minute bursts, but I suspect that over an entire work day, the standing desk user walks a lot more than the sitting desk user. And calories are not the only factor here; as Rubin concludes:

Of course, standing up almost certainly has other health benefits apart from weight management, Mr. Creasy said, including better blood sugar control and less back and shoulder pain associated with hunching in a chair all day. So don’t dismantle or abandon your stand-up desk just yet. But don’t expect it to counteract that extra cookie with lunch.

Tags: Health | Standing desk

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