(Don’t Just) Stand In The Place
Where You Work
There are clear benefits to simply standing more at work. The dangers of entirely sedentary days, whether at the office or on the couch, were recently illuminated in several studies that examined the relationship between sedentarism and all-cause mortality. In the Lancet’s recently published meta-analysis on sedentarism and physical activity, for example, the authors report that people engaging in only five minutes of moderate activity daily who sit for more than eight hours had a 27% increased mortality risk, compared with sitting fewer than four hours daily.
Standing more at work also may lower blood sugar levels, helping to stave off prediabetes and metabolic syndrome, and can also relieve neck and shoulder pain associated with hunching over a keyboard all day long. But the MET value of standing versus sitting does not rise to a difference in caloric expenditure that would seem to lead to weight loss, if that is your goal. Sitting typing at your desk has a metabolic equivalent value of 1.3; at 1.8 METs, standing and texting or talking on the phone does not create a significant increase.
And sure enough, a new study from the University of Pittsburgh suggests that for weight loss, standing more at work is not enough.
While some standing-at-work MET values are higher than the 1.8 referenced above—including the 3.0 value discussed in this publication last year—these values correspond to more active versions of standing: to reach the 3.0 MET value, the ACSM’s Compendium of Physical Activities Tracking Guide specifically lists “standing tasks, light effort (e.g., bartending, store clerk, assembling, filing, duplicating, librarian, putting up a Christmas tree, standing and talking at work, changing clothes when teaching physical education).” That is more activity than just standing while using your phone or PC at the office.
The new study randomized 74 participants into four activity groups as follows:
- sitting using a laptop computer followed by standing
- sitting watching television followed by walking
- standing watching television followed by sitting using a laptop computer
- walking followed by sitting watching television
Walking pace was self-selected but less than 3 mph (or 20:00 mile pace). Each activity lasted 15 minutes with a three-minute transition period between activities. Participants were mostly in their mid-20s and of normal weight.
The researchers found that substituting periods of sitting or standing with walking significantly increases energy expenditure, but substituting periods of sitting with standing appears not to appreciably affect energy expenditure at all. They write, “the potential benefits of standing as opposed to sitting need further investigation beyond the role of energy expenditure,” alluding to the fact that standing more at work does most likely deliver health benefits that sitting does not, but weight loss is not among them.
The volunteers generally burned about 20 calories during their 15 minutes of sitting. Standing, however, was insignificantly more demanding, only burning about two more calories per 15 minutes than sitting. (The order of sitting/standing didn’t impact the results.)
By contrast, the walkers burned three times as many calories as the sitters and standers. This is at a level that, if sustained for one hour each day, could offset yearly weight gain. And the Lancet meta-analysis did find that this was enough to offset the increased mortality risk incurred by prolonged sitting.
In that study, prolonged sitting was associated with increased mortality even among more active individuals than those mentioned above who engaged in only five minutes of moderate activity daily. However, among the most active individuals, those who walked or performed comparable activity for 60 to 75 minutes daily, prolonged sitting was no longer associated with increased mortality at all.
Perhaps it’s time to revisit the utility of the treadmill-desk: see “Work-desk Treadmilling has a Long Way to Go,” in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue.