Standing Desks

Fitness and Calorie Burn

By Charles Li, MD
December 1st, 2020

Standing vs. Sitting

Standing desks may look cool, hip, or dorky, depending on who you ask. But, do they actually improve your health?

One of the key benefits attributed to standing desks is fitness. Many who use them swear by the fact that they feel fitter when they use a standing desk.

Standing tends to engage more of your muscles than sitting. Even if you don’t consciously feel it, your body is constantly balancing itself as it stands.

But, does any of this add up to a significant health benefit?

Fortunately, calorie burn is relatively easy for scientists to study. When it comes to standing versus sitting, the studies generally point to a higher calorie burn when standing versus when sitting.

Standing and Calorie Burn
How Much Does Standing Burn?
22 calories per 15min
19 calories per 15 min
75 calories per 15 min
Randomized Study
15 min tests
Creasy et al, 2016
A study looking at standing vs. sitting and calorie burn found that standing individuals burned more calories during a 15-minute test than sitting individuals. Walking burned far more calories than standing or sitting.

In one study, those who were standing were found to burn slightly more calories than those who were sitting. However, both standing and sitting burn significantly fewer calories than walking, just to put things in perspective.

Do standing desks improve weight loss?

Do these differences in standing versus sitting translate to differences in calorie burn for standing desks?

For school kids, the answer appears to be: yes.

In one study, kids who were assigned to use a standing desk showed nearly no BMI difference after two years of study. Meanwhile, those who used a sitting desk showed a significantly higher gain in BMI.

Standing & Obesity in Children
Do Standing Desks Help Kids?
After 2 years of study, researchers found the following BMI changes:
Sitting Desks
+0.4 BMI
+0.1 BMI
2 years of study
Wendel et al, 2016
A 2-year study found that children who used sitting desks had significantly more BMI weight gain than those who used a standing desk.

Calorie Burn for Standing Desks

Similarly, another study looked at standing desks for children who are on the “higher-end” of the weight spectrum. These kids, when they used a standing desk, burned over 20% more calories than when those who were sitting.

The study was small, but it supports the results from the previous studies and the overall body of research.

Standing Desks for Obesity in School
Calories: Standing vs. Sitting
Among 21 overweight children, researchers found that standing desks may burn more calories:
Calories burned per minute
1.56 kcal/min
1.18 kcal/min
Measured with arm bands
10 days
Benden et al, 2011
Among 21 overweight children, those who used a standing desk burned more calories than those who were sitting.

In conclusion, the research supports the fact that standing desks help you burn slightly more calories than sitting. The difference is not huge, it may only end up being a few tens of calories per hour. However, this can add up over time.