Let’s get one thing straight. If your life is highly sedentary and you sit most of the day, a standing desk is not a miracle pill that will automatically help you achieve your ideal weight.
In fact, studies show that standing desk users typically only burn an additional 170 calories per day during their time standing (compared to sitting all day).
If that sounds confusing, here is another way of looking at it: the 3-4 hours of standing that typically occur with a sit-stand desk burn an extra 170 calories, compared to sitting for those 3-4 hours.
That’s about the same amount of calories as eating two Oreo cookies - hardly enough to make a meaningful dent in your weight loss plan.
But stay with me here…
While this fact is commonly offered as evidence when articles and “experts” claim that standing desks don’t facilitate weight loss, it also misses the forest through the trees. Yes, the above facts are 100% true, but by the time you finish this article, you will understand that they are also short-sided, and don’t really answer the question: Can a standing desk help me lose weight?
So, in this article we hope to offer you a deeper perspective on the topic of standing desks and weight loss, and ultimately explain why standing desks CAN help you lose weight and burn fat.
Dr. James Levin, M.D., Ph.D introduced important research into the study of whether or not standing desks help people lose weight:
Dr. Levin's research focuses on the “non-exercise activity” humans do throughout the day, like standing, walking, fidgeting, etc. All of these activities create thermogenesis in the body - which is a fancy way of saying that they generate heat in the body and turn on our body’s calorie burning engine. Dr. Levine calls this process “NEAT” (short for non-exercise activity thermogenesis).
Dr. Levine's findings clearly demonstrate that the more time you devote to fidgeting, walking, and standing during the day, the more calories you burn. But here is the important distinction from the studies we mentioned at the top of the article: NEAT doesn’t just burn calories while you stand or walk. The thermogenesis caused by non-exercise activity continually keeps your body’s metabolism higher day and night.
So while you may only burn an extra 170 calories during the time you spend standing - the act of standing and moving essentially kicks your metabolism into high gear, helping you burn as many as 2000 extra calories in 24 hours!
So to summarize, by naturally increasing your NEAT movements during the day, a standing desk improves your body’s overall metabolic rate - boosting calorie burn throughout the day and night (even when you're sitting). That boost in metabolism and extra calorie burn helps you lose and regulate your weight, and keeps your body generally healthy.
Despite what some might say, there is more to weight loss than simply counting calories. It's also important to consider body's hormones, and understand how they contribute specifically to our body's ability to burn fat.
In the prior section, we talked about the importance of NEAT, and how it helps us to burn extra calories throughout the day and night. Well, it turns out there’s even more benefit to the NEAT movements encouraged by standing desks.
Non-exercise activity also helps engage chemicals in your body that work to regulate blood sugar and burn fat. And in this section, we're going to focus on two key hormones: Insulin and Lipoprotein Lipase.
Blood sugar (insulin) is the hormone that regulates glucose (sugar) in the blood. Insulin works by helping the body's cells absorb glucose. If your body has too much insulin, your cells absorb too much glucose, which then gets converted into fat.
So the regulation of your blood sugar is absolutely vital to burning fat and properly losing weight. The most common methods of balancing your blood sugar are through diet and exercise. No news there.
However, it turns out that the same metabolic processes that we discussed above that boost our metabolism and calorie burn, also have a positive effect on our blood sugar.
An Australian study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise examined 23 overweight office workers over two weeks. The first week, they spent 8 hours of days sitting at a desk. The second week, the alternated 30 minutes of sitting with 30 minutes of standing.
Researchers analyzed blood samples to see if there was a difference in glucose levels and found that the glucose levels improved by 11% when workers alternated between standing and sitting (in just the first week).
Lipoprotein Lipase (LPL) is a lesser known hormone, but no less crucial. LPL is a key enzyme in the body that essentially captures and burns fat in our blood stream.
Turns out that standing and non-exercise activity significantly increase the LPL activity in your body. Conversely, sitting has been known to decrease LPL activity by as much as 90% - 95%.
All this is by way of saying that standing desks do more than just burn calories. A standing desk helps the body activate the chemicals and enzymes in your body that help burn fat, specifically. And last I checked, that’s usually the REAL goal of any diet or weight loss plan.
As you know, there are many articles that say standing desks don't offer a significant weight loss benefit. While this may be true, most of these articles fail to tell the whole story.
While true in their assertion that we don't burn that many more calories while standing compared to sitting, these articles fail to take into consideration the global and long term benefits of non-exercise activity (standing and moving).
The core benefit of a standing desk, as it pertains to weight loss, is the encouragement of this non-exercise activity: standing, swaying, moving, etc. All that activity helps boost the body's metabolism, burn calories around the clock, and balance vital hormones for weight loss and calorie burn.
Click here to read about more important standing desk benefits
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