What if I said you could burn an extra 350 calories every day? I know what you’re thinking… I’m about to share some crazy eating plan or workout with you. But what if I said it has nothing to do with diet or exercise? Intrigued? You should be. But first let me tell you how I discovered this calorie-burning hack.
When I was five, I got extremely excited in a ball pond. My mother watched on from a distance in horror as I jumped from a high platform into the mass of balls. I screamed out as a pain shot up my spine on reaching the multicoloured pond—I’d landed straight on my tailbone. I had to sit on a rubber ring for six weeks.
Fast-forward 26 years, and a rather vigorous bout of V-sits in a workout class left me with a dull, aching pain that reminded me of this long-forgotten incident that happened decades before. I have an office-based job where I have to sit at a desk all day, but it’s not all that chic sitting on a rubber ring (fine when you’re five).
Racking my brains for a solution, I thought back to my time as fitness and beauty editor at Women’s Health, where I had been incredibly jealous of my colleagues who had standing desks. Standing didn’t hurt my coccyx (the “proper” name for our tail bones), so before Christmas I pushed my chair aside and found a couple of empty boxes in the office to sit my laptop on. I haven’t looked back since. My tail bone gets welcome relief, and not only that, I noticed a pretty rapid loss of five pounds (without making any other changes). Keep scrolling to find out more about the benefits of standing at work and how to make the switch.
Okay, so walking and running burn calories because you’re moving, but can standing still really burn anything? According to a study conducted by the BBC and the University of Chester, it can. Dr. John Buckley and a team of researchers asked 10 people who sit all day to stand daily for three hours, and they each wore monitors to record their heart rates. The researchers found that during the hours when the volunteers stood, their heart rate was 10 beats per minute more. “That makes a difference of about 0.7 of a calorie per minute,” says Dr. Buckley. It doesn’t sound like much, but it equates to 50 calories an hour, which if you work a nine-to-five job and only sit for an hour at lunch, you’ll burn an extra 350 calories over the seven hours.
Can’t face standing all day, every day? The volunteers stood for just three to four hours each day; in a year that adds up to 30,000 extra calories burned (or eight pounds of fat).
"If you want to put that into activity levels," says Dr Buckley, "then that would be the equivalent of running about 10 marathons a year. Just by standing up three or four hours in your day at work."
And it’s not just good for your waistline; standing is great for your health too. Sitting has also been linked to an inability to control our blood glucose, as well as a rise in levels of fats in the blood that can increase heart disease. The study further proved this: The researchers took blood tests on days when the volunteers stood and when they sat. “Blood glucose levels fell back to normal levels after a meal far more quickly on the days when the volunteers stood than when they sat,” the article states.
Standing also engages muscles. On a recent retreat to Yeotown in Devon, I told a sports masseuse I met that I stood at work, and she said standing helps engage your core—hello abs!
Neil Dimmock, head of fitness at Ten Health & Fitness, agrees. “The benefits of standing more are that you will engage muscles, which are important stabilizers. These stabilizing muscles help provide support for the hips and spine. The muscles that support you when standing have to be fueled, therefore leading to a greater caloric output.”
You may think you wouldn't be able to stand for a couple of hours, let alone a whole day, but I promise you, you soon forget that you're standing. In fact, I enjoy standing up so much that when I come to sit down for lunch or at home in the evening, it feels unnatural and a bit uncomfortable, if I'm being totally honest.
How to Stand for Maximum Effect
If you stand at work, your posture will improve too. Set your standing desk up accurately, and you will be forced to stand tall. Unfortunately, my boxes are a little low, so I still have to hunch over slightly to see the screen. Having said that, my back still feels a million times better than it did when I sat all day.
A couple of months ago, my back got so bad I constantly had an overwhelming urge to want to crack it, like people do their knuckles. The only thing that worked was heading home every night and getting into a yoga wheel, and sure as the sky looks blue, my mid-back would crack every single time. Since standing, I haven’t had the urge to crack my spine once. But I still haven’t got it perfect. Keep scrolling to find out how to stand correctly at work.
Dimmock recommends you follow these guidelines when standing at your workstation: “Ultimately, you should have a sense of 'lengthening' your spine. Starting at your feet, try to place them hip-width apart with toes pointing forward. Create suppleness in your knees and, again, point them forward. Try your best to tighten your bum a little; this is easier said than done! This creates more support for your hips and thus a good foundation for your spine. Widen your shoulders a little, and create length through your collarbone region. Also, draw your shoulders down a little. This enables you to avoid tension through the top of your shoulders, leading into your neck.
“Have the screen within your eye line; this will prevent you from dropping your chin. As an added bonus, try to keep your chin slightly tucked as though you are creating a double chin. This switches on those deeper stabilizing muscles for the neck.
“Your keyboard should be at a level that prevents your hand and forearm from being ‘angled up.’ Preferably, the keyboard should be at a height that produces an almost 90-degree angle in your elbow; this will give you the feeling that your wrists are gently lying on top of your keyboard. If this is not possible, then wrists being angled down would be a safer alternative to wrists angled up,” recommends Dimmock.
If you do want to start standing all day, you do need to keep in mind footwear—I suggest having a pair under your desk at work for the purpose. “Try to wear shoes that do not alter the shape of your foot,” suggest Dimmock. “The foot is structured to support the load and frame of your body. Therefore, your heel raised or toes forced into a pointed position will alter the dynamics of your ready-made support system.”
Lastly, you may find your feet swell slightly, which is simply due to water transferring downwards with the pull of gravity. I have been inverting my legs by lying against a wall (get your bum as close to the skirting board) with my back and head on the floor leaning my legs up the wall. It’s a common yoga pose, known as Viparita Karani, and I find it just counterbalances the day’s standing. Check out @yoga_girl Rachel Brathen doing the pose on a beach (no wall needed behind your legs when you have the sea right there, apparently).
Want to invest in a standing desk? Honestly, you'll never look back. Here are three worth the spend. Varidesks are considered the market leaders in standing desks, and the tabletop version means you can put it on any existing desk. It can easily be adjusted for sitting when eating your lunch and standing when working. Not convinced? Try an affordable version like the cardboard Incredidesk and see how you get on.