Research: Stand-up desks may help weight loss

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Standup desks may assist with burning more calories in the obese.

Standup Desk
Standup Desk

Standup desks are all the rage in my office. Nearly every furniture manufacturer is rushing to the market with their own form of this furniture. Many of my coworkers swear by them for everything from low back pain to increase the calories burned. Many of the manufacturers make outlandish claims but to this date, there is limited research to back up these beliefs.

It makes sense that the use of a standing desk could be associated with greater metabolic cost as compared to traditional seated desks. Sitting in a seat burns very few calories when compared to standing. It would also make sense that people who are overweight would burn more calories than those that are slim. The fact is that everything burns more calories and someone who’s obese because it takes more effort to with all that weight. However, it is unclear as to the metabolic impact of standing desks in normal weight versus obese men and women. 

The good news is that a new research study from 2018 looked at the metabolic impact of a standing desk in normal-weight individuals versus those that are obese​[1]​. The researchers in this study compared the metabolic cost of using a standing and seated desk in obese and normal-weight men and women. A total of 33 subjects reported to the lab on a single occasion and participated in two, 30-minute sessions of standing and seated desk work. The researchers used expired gases to determine energy expended. The gasses were collected during the 2-hour period and calorie expenditure was estimated using indirect calorimetry. 

The study revealed that there was a significant increase in energy expenditure of 7.4 kcal over 30 minutes during standing as compared to seated for the obese group. They found no significant difference in energy expenditure was noted for the normal weight group. I would’ve liked to have seen a third group of patients or subjects that were overweight but not obese.

The bottom line: The use of a standing desk modestly increases energy expenditure in obese subjects. I cannot explain why the energy expenditure did not go up in nonobese patients. It would make sense that it would also go out for those that are overweight but maybe not as much as the obese. I would like to see further research to look at this topic to either confirm the results of this study or further clarify with additional groups. I suspect that further research would show that standing desks also increase energy expenditures in both normal weight and overweight individuals that are not obese.

  1. [1]
    N. J. G. Smith, M. Butawan, J. Caldwell, and R. J. Bloomer, “Use of a Standing Desk Increases Energy Expenditure in Obese but Not Normal Weight Subjects,” Health, pp. 949–959, 2018 [Online]. Available:
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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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