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Fidgeting at your desk may burn more calories than using a standing workstation, study suggests

feet under desk
Photo: kokouu/iStockphoto

Chicago — Spontaneous activity, such as moving your feet back and forth, while seated can burn more calories than using a standing workstation, according to the results of a recent study.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, IL, studied 16 participants’ metabolic rate and heart rate as they progressed through three types of desk workstations: seated, standing and seated with a device designed to stimulate leg movement. Participants spent 15 minutes at each desk.

The researchers found that “modest” movement – the kind unrelated to structured exercise – elevated metabolic rates 17 percent more than sitting at a desk and 7 percent more than using a standing workstation.

The results are similar to those of a 10-year study conducted by Mayo Clinic that found even small, sometimes fidgety, movements such as tapping your toes – called non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT – can help counteract a sedentary lifestyle.

Studies have linked prolonged sitting to an increased risk of early death, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, among other ailments.

“These results suggest that non-exercise active thermogenesis … can increase movement and calorie burning, and may have the potential to impact health,” Craig Horswill, lead author and clinical professor of kinesiology and nutrition at UIC, said in a Dec. 19 press release. “We expected to see the metabolic rate increase with each progressive stage, but instead found that metabolic rates from movement while seated were either equal to or higher than rates while standing.”

Horswill cautioned that additional research is needed but said the results are promising for people who don’t use a standing workstation because of disability, injury or discomfort.

The study was published Dec. 13 in the journal WORK.

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