Everyone knows you’re supposed to stand up more throughout the course of the day, but a new standing study provides some surprising findings.
First, let’s talk about the extreme risks of a sedentary lifestyle. In the past few years, we’ve learned a lot about the health effects of too much sitting. And get this — a sedentary lifestyle can be just as damaging to our bodies as smoking. (1)
Though there are ways to counteract those health effects, like exercising, the reality for many of us is that we’re still spending upwards of 8 hours a day sitting down. Equipment like standing desks and walking treadmills aren’t feasible for most people, either. Does that mean we’re doomed?
Details of the Standing Study
Not so fast. A recent study out of the University of Glasgow says it’s not how long you’re standing that matters, but how often you do it. Shorter, more frequent standing breaks, they discovered, are more effective at burning fat than those standing for longer periods of time (or not at all).
Here’s how it worked. The small study recruited 10 participants, all overweight or obese men, for three 8-hour long trials in random order. Each time, the men ate breakfast, a lunch four hours later and then spent another four hours during their observation period watching TV, reading and so on. What changed in each of the three sessions is how long they sat.
At the end of each session, both of the standing groups ended up standing for the same amount of time — four hours throughout the course of the day — but one group stood for longer periods at a time than the other.
The results of the study are quite interesting. Both groups who stood up experienced more energy burn than the stationary group. But people burned the most energy when they stood up for shorter bouts of time, than when they stood up longer, even though, at the end of the day, they were both standing for the same total duration.
That means that standing up throughout the day for short intervals of time could help you lose more weight than trying to stand for longer stretches of time.
Standing for 15 minutes at a time over the day increased the number of calories burnt by 10.7 percent, but standing more frequently for 1.5 minutes at a time increased calorie burn by 20.4 percent over sitting. It suggests there may be bodyweight benefits from getting up on your feet as many times as you can during the day.
The researchers believe that the muscle activity required for a larger amount of sit-to-stand transitions was responsible for the higher energy expenditure among the group who stood up for just 5 minutes at a time.
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What This Standing Study Means for You
While we know that we should be moving, the feasibility of standing up for long stretches of time during the work day is slim for most people. Things like standing desks haven’t been proven to work, either; in fact, standing for too long can be pretty harmful, too.
And yet, sitting for long, uninterrupted stretches can really take a toll on our bodies and health. What’s more sobering is that exercise isn’t enough to mitigate the effects of sitting around all day — we have to find a way to stop being quite so sedentary.
Breaking up the workday into small, more manageable chunks of standing time is much more realistic than going on hour-long walks. But aside from walking to and from the water cooler, how else can you break up your sitting time to get that metabolism moving?
Skip the emails. Instead of messaging your colleague, walk to their desk to ask your questions instead.
Opt for walking meetings. Not only will your body thank you for getting up and moving, being out in nature can help you feel less stressed and spark your creativity. (2)
Set an alarm. Have a (quiet) alarm go off every 60 to 90 minutes as your reminder to get up, stretch and refill your water bottle.
Exercise at your desk. This might require a certain type of colleagues, but try these easy exercises you can do at your workstation! Better yet, convince co-workers to join in.