You’ve heard it before: Sitting too much does a number on your health, and can spike your risk of weight gain, heart problems, type 2 diabetes, depression, back pain, and blood clots.
It makes sense, then, that standing more each day would counteract some of these effects. But that raises a big question: In addition to helping prevent chronic diseases, can simply standing more each day actually help you lose weight?
Yep, there’s research to support the link between standing more and shedding kilos.
“Studies have shown that increasing time spent standing versus sitting can enhance weight loss efforts and reduce the risk of weight gain over time,” says gastroenterologist Carolyn Newberry.
One 2018 meta-analysis published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology looked at a total of 46 studies, which included 1,184 people. For women, standing burned 0.4kJ (0.1cal) per minute more than sitting. While that sounds like nothing, the researchers pointed out that it can add up. If a 65kg (143-pound) person stood instead of sat for six hours a day, they’d burn an extra 188kJ (54cal) a day. And if you add all of that up over a year, you could burn 2.5kg (5.5 pounds) of fat.
Another small study published the Journal of Physical Activity & Health had 74 people do different activities for 15 minutes while researchers tracked how many kilojoules they burned. The study participants sat while using a laptop and watching TV, then stood while watching TV, and finally walked at their own pace. Walking obviously burned more kilojoules than everything else, but the researchers found that people who stood burned an average of 38 more kilojoules an hour than when they were sitting. Again, it’s not much, but it can add up over time.
So is standing vs. sitting a good weight loss strategy?
It’s not the most efficient approach. “Standing burns more kilojoules than sitting but it would take quite a bit of time for you to see that benefit,” says dietitian Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity medicine specialist. It could take six months to a year before you see any noticeable difference, she points out, but “it can happen over time.”
Dr Newberry agrees. “Increasing the time you spend standing per day alone is unlikely to lead to large changes in weight,” she says.
“If you want to lose weight, standing is great, but you want to think about the full picture.”
That said, there are other health benefits to standing more. Standing can boost your metabolic health, Dr Newberry says, and that can help you maintain or even boost weight loss that you get in other ways, like from exercising regularly and eating a nutrient-rich diet. “Reducing the number of hours you sit per day in favour of standing has been linked to reduction in developing certain common health problems including heart disease, diabetes, and stroke,” she says. “It also may improve mood, lead to better sleep, and boost productivity.”
Research has also shown that standing can help lower your blood sugar, blood pressure, and triglycerides (the main component of body fat in humans), so there are definitely some other perks of getting on your feet. “It’s a great thing to be standing more,” Dr Stanford says.
What can you do to stand more each day?
The issue for most people is usually sitting too much at work. If you find most of your sitting time is done on the job, you could rally your office to try to get the company to invest in standing desks. But, unfortunately, that can take time and effort.
So, Dr Stanford recommends setting aside a time every hour or so where you get up and take a walk, like going to a bathroom on another floor just to get moving. “It gives your body a break,” she says. If that’s too tricky with your schedule, Dr Newberry suggests making a point to stand for at least a few minutes every hour to stretch your legs.
And, if you want to stand more at home, you can try doing things like standing while watching TV or walking around your place while you talk on the phone instead of sitting on the couch. Again, it’s probably not going to make you lose a bunch of weight, but forming habits like this and sticking with them can pay off over time.
“If you want to lose weight, standing is great, but you want to think about the full picture,” Dr Stanford says. “It’s just one of many things you can address.”