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Why Your Standing Desk Won’t Help You Lose Weight

by | Jan 9, 2023 | Lifestyle

Is it just me or is the traditional office desk becoming as obsolete as your favorite items at the grocery store? 

Good gas prices? 

Or (best of all) a day of stress-free, peace and quiet? 

As a kid, I LOVED popping into my dad’s office and sitting in his cushy chair behind his big office desk before we made silly faces or hand prints on the copy machine.  

But that type of setting is a rare find today.  

Heck, having an office outside the home is rare for many post-pandemic.  

Due to the change in office structure AND the popularity of full- or part-time remote jobs, standing desks have become all the rage.  

Heck, a few of my clients’ employers PAID for them to equip their home office with standing desks.  

Standing desks have grown in popularity largely because of the supposed health benefits.  

But is a standing desk REALLY that much better for you? 

Depends where you look and what you read… 

But if you think it’s an easy way to boost your chances for fat loss or health improvements, you’re going to want to check this out.. 

What’s Wrong With a Standing Desk? 

In short, nothing.  

In length, just like the old-school style of desk, a standing desk does have its cons and it might not be as healthy as the internet and social media crack it up to be.  

#1 You’re Not Burning as Many Calories As You Think 

This is the #1 reason people invest in standing desks.  

They’re looking for a simple way to burn more calories because let’s be honest – when it comes to fat loss, we’re lazy and desperately seeking ways to burn calories without actually changing what’s actually causing us to be overweight.  

A number of studies have been conducted to compare the calories burned while seated to those burned while standing and at first glance, the results are ALL over the board.  

Some show only a few additional calories burned.  

Others show HUNDREDS.  

And some show THOUSANDS.  

But did you read the fine print?? 

Those studies suggesting thousands of additional calories burned from simply using a standing desk are across a 7-10 span – NOT on a daily basis.

A few studies demonstrating hundreds of calories burned are also across the week; however, most did not control for participants’ movement outside the desk, only calories burned per hour.  

Studies showing a minor increase in calories burned are the ones needing to be looked at a little more closely… 

Harvard Health Publishing cited a study that compared calories burned while doing seated computer work, watching TV, standing or walking on a treadmill.  

No surprise, walking on a treadmill burned the most calories (210 calories/hour).  

Sitting, typing and watching TV all yielded similar calories burned per hour (~80 calories/hour).  

Then there’s the standing desk… 

Only a slight increase in calories burned per hour (88 calories/hour).  

The article follows up to suggest that while a standing or treadmill desk CAN increase calories burned, the significant uptick praised through other research is largely due to the increased activity that results from standing – NOT the act of standing alone.  

Simply put, to burn the MOST calories with your standing desk, you have to do more than stand.  

MOVE YOUR BODY! 

If you want to know how to move more in your day, grab a copy of 30 Ways to Move

#2 Standing Posture Can Be Worse Than Seated

Aside from calories burned, one of the big pushes for standing desks lies in what it can do for your posture.  

Can it improve your slouched posture? 

Absolutely!! 

But there are some other key areas needing attention if you choose a standing desk.  

Neck Flexion – When screens or workstations are below our eye level, we have a tendency to reach our eyes towards them.  This causes your chin to jut forward and place a significant strain on your neck.  Repeated neck flexion can cause shoulder pain, headaches and low back pain.   

Pelvic Rotation – To counteract the neck flexion and a fatigued core (most Americans have a weak inner core structure that’s key to posture), there’s a tendency to rotate the pelvis forward.  This pushes the belly button and hip bones forward, crunches the lumbar spine (low back), and leads to a LOT of back pain. 

Hip Shifts – Just like we have a dominant hand, we also have a dominant hip/leg.  When you stand for long periods of time, you might find yourself shifting your weight to one hip over the other (you can also do this while sitting).  This creates a great deal of tension in the favored hip and weakness in the unfavored hip.  Over time, this can lead to hip pain, low back tightness or pain and knee pain.  

Knee Hyperextension – As a result of pelvic rotation and hip shifting, we have a tendency to lock out the knees and create a hyperextended position.  This puts unnecessary stress on the ankles, calves, hamstrings and low back.  Let’s not forget that the next time you bend or move your knees in your workout, you’re going to feel like the Tin Man without oil.  

In summary, you’re going to have to do just as much work to improve or maintain your posture with a standing desk as with a sitting desk.  

My best recommendations: 

  • Follow a training program that strengthens your posterior chain (Upper back, low back, core & hamstrings)
  • Stand up or move hourly to break poor posture patterns.  
  • Fit your workstation to your body 

#3 Productivity May Suffer 

You might not think it’s that big of a deal to stand instead of sit, but it can really impact productivity.  

Because it’s a new position, your body has a handful of new stimuli to give attention to which can take away your focus from the task at hand.  

Now, let’s add in a treadmill and ask you to read, write or type… 

It takes some adjustment! 

Personally, my treadmill desk is used for typing (right now), social media interaction, reading and client conversations.  

Any creative design work, writing or deep focus work has to be done in a stand-only or seated position. 

Everybody has an ideal working position.

Standing MIGHT be right for you, but it also may be WORSE for your productivity.

If you find yourself fidgeting or struggling to focus, adjust your position and find what works for you because more stress due to lack of productivity isn’t good for health or fat loss.  

What Are the Benefits of a Standing Desk? 

Now, don’t go listing your standing desk on Facebook marketplace just yet because there are a number of benefits… 

Lowered Risk of Obesity 

While standing desks might not burn THAT many more calories as compared to seated desks, research does show those who stand more in a day have a decreased risk of obesity largely due to the higher likelihood of fidgeting and general activity.  

Potential for Lowered Blood Sugar Levels 

It is recommended that you take a seat to eat (improved digestion), but walking for 10 minutes or standing for 30 minutes or more following lunch has shown to improve digestion and reduce blood sugar spikes.  

Lowered Risk of Heart Disease 

The idea behind standing for a lowered risk of heart disease first came in comparison to conductors vs. bus drivers.  Research now shows prolonged sedentary time to increase the risk of heart disease by up to 147%.  A lowered risk of heart disease also improves longevity.  

Postural Improvements 

Yes, I did just shred posture in the section above, but standing CAN improve posture.  This stems again from one’s likelihood to live a more active lifestyle and not get stuck in taxing sedentary positions for long periods of time. 

Improve Mood & Day-to-Day Energy

Studies have found individuals to report less stress and fatigue when using a standing desk.  This appropriately aligns with the research that suggest sedentary time increases one’s risk for depression and anxiety.  

How Can I Use It to Help My Fat Loss Goals? 

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my standing desk and treadmill desk (S/O to 2 amazing clients for hooking me up).  

But neither desk is the driver for my fat loss… 

That would be my: 

  • Nutrient-Dense & Whole Foods Diet 
  • Caloric Intake 
  • Daily Step Goal 
  • Training Program 

But if you’re looking to shed some body fat, it CAN be beneficial… 

If standing encourages you to live a more active lifestyle, that’s going to burn more calories and encourage fat loss.  

If you can find tasks where you can walk on a treadmill and work, you’re increasing your likelihood of hitting your step goal, being more active on a daily basis and burning more body fat.  

Neither of these require you to be standing or walking ALL DAY.  

Take a 5 minute walk every hour.  

Walk during certain tasks only (phone calls, typing or reading)

Stand or walk following meals. 

Walk, stand or stretch during your breaks.  

YOU DO NOT NEED TO WALK OR STAND ALL DAY! 

In fact, you shouldn’t… 

But if standing or walking while working decreases your productivity and stresses you out, then it’s best to find an alternative way to burn the additional calories.  

Looking for desk recommendations? 

Amazon Walking Pad 

Standing Desk 

Don’t have the money to spend? 

Stack up some books or boxes to make your own 😉 

References:

Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-benefits-of-a-standing-desk#TOC_TITLE_HDR_7

Harvard Health: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-truth-behind-standing-desks-2016092310264

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