22 October 2013 Stand Up to Burn More Calories

We live in a world of sitting: in cars, buses, planes, trains, subways, desks, waiting rooms, in front of the TV, while playing computer games, at entertainment venues and at meals. Even people who schedule a regular exercise session everyday spend most of the rest of the day sitting.

Medical researchers have noticed all this sitting, and several recent studies suggest that sitting might actually work like the Anti-Exercise, making people more prone to weight gain and making weight loss harder. Even if you faithfully exercise for an hour everyday, you might be cancelling out the benefits by sitting for 10 hours.

Now there's more evidence for those anti-exercise effects of sitting, courtesy of the BBC's “Trust Me I'm a Doctor” series. The show's producers teamed with doctors from the University of Chester to investigate the effect of standing vs. sitting on a group of volunteers. The results are pretty fascinating, and might make you jump out of your chair.

The researchers asked 10 volunteers, who normally sit all day, to spend at least 3 hours a day standing, for one week. They wore accelerometers and heart rate monitors, and their blood glucose was measured 24 hours a day with glucose monitors.

Glucose was measured because there's evidence that prolonged sitting impacts glucose metabolism. Sitting can also affect fat metabolism, making it harder to burn fat for muscle fuel.

The measurements for the week of standing were compared to measurements taken when the volunteers spent their days sitting. One key finding: blood glucose levels returned to normal levels more quickly after meals during the standing week. Data from the heart rate monitors indicated standing causes a slightly higher heart rate, which means slightly more calories burned per minute. Dr. John Buckley, the lead researcher, calculated that the calorie burning effect of standing for just 3 hours a day for 5 days, instead of sitting, added up to almost 30,000 extra calories burned per year, or about 8 pounds of body fat. Or, as Dr. Buckley notes, the same number of calories you might burn running 10 marathons. Just from standing instead of sitting.

This small study was done for the BBC program, but that doesn't take away from the significance of the findings. It adds to the argument that sitting all day can make it hard to manage your weight. Standing more could increase calorie burning and glucose control. It's good news, since standing is simple. You don't need special exercise clothes or shoes or a gym membership. You don't even need an expensive treadmill desk. You just stand up.

The volunteers in this study stood for at least 3 hours a day, but that doesn't mean they had to stand for 3 hours straight. You can stand for small increments of time throughout the day, when it fits your activity. Here are some examples of activities that are amenable to standing:

  • Talking on the phone
  • Having a meeting or discussion with a colleague or family member
  • Waiting to pick up your child at school or sports
  • Texting or using your phone
  • Using your computer (easiest with laptops and tablets)
  • Reading (books, reports, tablets, newspaper, etc)

While standing more is a good idea, it doesn't replace exercise. Vigorous physical activity that gets the heart and muscles working is also essential for weight management and general fitness. The best plan for weight control is this: find ways to stand up more while doing normal daily activities, and stick to a daily exercise plan, such as a brisk hour-long walk.

Donna P. Feldman MS RDN

Nutrition journalist at Radio Nutrition

Co-host: Walk Talk Nutrition podcast.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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