With standing desks becoming more and more popular among health conscious workers I thought it might be a nice idea to see what standing does to your calorie burn. I’ve seen some strong claims about the high calorie burn of standing, so I was interested to see some data. This post gives a quick snapshot of the best data I could find.
Calories Burned Standing vs Sitting
When you see a standing desk advertised it’s common to see a claim about how many calories more per hour you can burn simply by standing while you work. This seems natural enough, but I’ve never been that sure about some of these numbers.
A typical approach for estimating this extra calorie burn is to use the Metabolic Equivalent of Task (MET) from the Compendium of Physical Activities. For example I can see the that the MET code for sitting is 1.5 (code 11580) and for standing its 2.0 (code 09071).
This means a 100kg person would use 150 kcal/hour sitting and 200 kcal/hour standing. The 50 calorie per hour difference sounds small, but do that for 4 hours a day, 5 days a week and you’ve expended an extra 2,000 calories.
At least they would have if this calculation was accurate . . .
The following chart uses some real lab data to estimate how much energy we use per hour during some familiar activities. It includes watching TV (sitting), standing and walking at various speeds. Because it is based on actual data and varied body weights it is a much more realistic view on calories burned standing than using MET codes.
It’s actually really surprising how little extra energy standing uses compared to sitting.
Look at the middle and we can see that when a 75kg (165lbs) is sitting watching TV they are typically using 100 calories per hour. Sitting typing uses just 9 calories more, while standing still is surprising efficient at just 119 kcal/h. In contrast the calories burned walking at just 0.4 mph are 170 kcal/hour. And at 1mph, a speed commonly seen on treadmill desks, the figure is 200 kcal/hour.
The Extra Burn from Standing
I’ve found people sometimes struggle to see just how small this difference is using this graph, so here is the same data focusing purely on the additional calories that are burnt from not sitting.
You can see how much the focus on ‘added calories’ changes the presentation of this data. Basically, if your goal is to burn more calories then your need to start moving those legs!!
Humans are absurdly efficient at standing still, adding just 10 kcal/hour to sitting energy burn. But for every hour someone walks slowly (1 mph) at a treadmill desk they are adding 100 kcal/hour to their expenditure. Done consistently that could really add up to a lot of calories.
How do calories burned standing vs sitting compare?
Standing up adds as little as 10 kcal/hour to your calorie burn!
To really burn more calories you need to move those legs!!