While staying active is the best way to burn calories, you may be able to improve your health by simply spending more time standing than sitting each day.
Standing burns more calories than sitting — and it also has fewer possible health risks when you stand more compared to sitting all day each day.
Understanding Calorie Burn
You manage your weight by watching calories — both the calories you eat and the calories you burn. When you eat more calories than your body needs for energy, you gain weight. If you eat fewer calories or work out to burn more calories, you lose weight.
While there are many diets that boast special tactics to help you lose weight, they all come down to eating fewer calories than your body naturally burns, or burning more calories through physical activity.
It’s normal for your weight to fluctuate as you eat more or fewer calories and burn more or fewer calories. Over time you may find a balance that you can maintain without needing to measure the calories you eat or burn.
Benefits of Standing vs Sitting to Burn Calories
Multiple studies have shown people typically burn more calories standing than sitting.
One study showed that adults who weigh 143 pounds burn 0.15 more calories a minute when standing versus sitting. If you stand for six hours per day instead of sitting, you burn around 54 additional calories. While this may not seem like much, it adds up to five and a half pounds per year.
Another study measured how many calories a group of people burned on average while sitting, standing, and walking. While sitting, they burned 80 calories per hour. Standing burned an additional eight calories, and walking burned a total of 210 calories per hour.
Spending a long time sitting increases your risks for some health conditions.
If you stand more, you may lower your risk for conditions like:
- Cardiovascular (heart) disease
- Death at a younger age
Keep in mind that there is no specific link between standing and lowered risk. The link is between sitting and an increased risk. However, any steps you take to increase your activity and calorie burn can have a positive impact on your health. If you stand more during the day, you may be more likely to exercise, too.
Risks of Standing to Burn Calories
If you’re used to sitting at a desk all day, it’s important to move gradually to standing more. If you work a job where you sit at a desk all day, a standing desk makes it so you can continue working while you stand. If you go from sitting to standing all day at once, you may have back, leg, or foot pain. Instead, ease into standing by starting with 30 minutes to 60 minutes of standing at a time.
Take frequent breaks to sit down. If it helps, set a timer to remind you to stand up at a certain time of day. You may find that some tasks are easier to do when you’re seated. Plan your time around which responsibilities you do better with standing or sitting.
Better Ways to Burn Calories
If you want to burn more calories, look at ways you can add activity to your day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you spend at least 150 minutes each week doing moderate exercise. This averages 30 minutes of activity each day for five days. If you prefer a more intense activity like running, you should aim for 75 minutes of activity per week. This averages 15 minutes of activity for five days a week.
You should also strength train two days per week. When you lift weights and challenge your muscles to grow, you burn more calories. Your calorie burn increases during the activity and after it. This is because muscle burns more calories than fat.
Measuring Calorie Burn
If you want to measure how many calories you burn while sitting, standing, and working out, consider ways to track your vital signs. An activity tracker estimates calorie burn based on your height, weight, and the intensity of your activity. This can help you track your standing, sitting, and moving caloric burn. Accuracy can vary, so beware of choosing one that estimates your calorie burn too high.
A heart rate monitor is one of the more accurate ways to measure calorie burn. When your heart rate is up, you’re working harder and burning more calories. When your heart rate is lower, you burn fewer calories.
A MET values chart may be valuable in showing you the average calories burned during a specific activity based on your weight. MET stands for metabolic equivalents. This chart is the most simplified way to track calories and may be less accurate based on your activity level and the energy you put into a workout.
While calorie burn is important if you’re trying to lose weight, you also want to watch what you eat. A majority of success in weight loss is attributed to eating fewer calories. For example, if you cut 500 calories from your intake each day through a mix of eating fewer calories and increasing your physical activity, you’ll lose a pound each week.
Losing weight is done best when it's done steadily, around 1 to 2 pounds each week, with healthy changes to your lifestyle.