July 05, 2011

Standing Versus Sitting Burns HOW MANY Calories?!?!

But sitting is so darn comfy! (Photo: thetimechannel)

UPDATE! There is a more recent 2012 post on Stand Up Desks if you want to find out how this experiment went and get a few more ideas!

As you may have heard by now, sitting down all day long can kill you. This is true even if you arise from your desk when the workday is done, walk briskly to the gym like the virtuous, dedicated health and fitness superhero that you are, and then proceed to exercise like a maniac for the rest of the evening. Doesn't seem fair does it? But yet another new study confirms the unfortunate connection between sitting and dying, even among those who don't smoke and who get regular exercise.

And many of us have seen these studies, and promised ourselves to get out of the chair more often, and maybe even googled stand-up desks or treadmill workstations and then... forgot all about the whole deal two minutes later and somehow found ourselves watching a youtube video of a baby laughing uncontrollably at a fluffy white kitten wearing a tutu.

But wait... what's even more motivating than not dying? Well, for most people--finding easy ways to lose weight!

So a couple weeks ago, I was reading yet another article warning about the dire consequences of plopping our butts in chairs all day, and contemplating alternatives like a stand up desk, when I saw a surprising and exciting statistic:

The article said you could burn 50 extra calories an hour if you stand up while you work rather than sit down.

So... if I replace, say, 6 hours of sitting a day with standing, I get (in addition to the nice perk of not dying) 300 hundred extra calories to snarf up cupcakes increase my intake of nutritious lean protein and vegetables?  Or alternatively, I could eat the same amount and lose 300 calories worth of extra flab a day??

I set off on a google search, and the news only got better!  One standing versus sitting article said "Standing two hours a day can burn up to 280 calories daily (depending on body size and other factors); over the period of a year, this can add up to a weight loss of 20 lbs."

And another white paper on weight loss at work proclaimed that "by adding only two-and-a-half hours of standing to an employee’s workday, 350 extra calories are burned per day," and holy moley, if that's true, then six hours of standing would get me many many cupcakes even more health benefits!

Now of course, I'm a female human of average height, and am used to having to adjust caloric studies on "normal people" to reflect the fact I won't burn as many calories.  Whatever.  If I've got to knock off a bit from the 840 calories that six hours of standing would get me, well gosh, I could live with that!

The next thing I did was to go looking for the actual studies behind all these lovely pronouncements and... well.... I couldn't find any of the actual damn data anywhere for the 140 calorie an hour figure.  Did folks start forgetting to subtract the amount of calories sitting would have burned during the same hour?  Did the researchers only pick 600 pound subjects to experiment on? Who knows? (And if anyone has a good link to a reputable research publication, please let me know!).  In truth, I didn't pursue the hunt for corroboration very far because it finally dawned on me:

So what if it's not 140 calories an hour?  What if it's 80, or 50, or even 25 calories an hour?

If sitting for a good part of the day is gonna kill me, and if I can motivate myself to stand up using possibly exaggerated data on calorie burn, is that a bad thing?  And no one seems to debate that standing indeed burns more calories than sitting--it's just hard to find out exactly how many.

And so, guess what I've been doing for the last week or so?  Standing up at my computer!  Wanna know how it happened, what I've observed about the experience?

What, you don't?

Well, that hasn't ever stopped me from sharing before.  So here we go:

The Low Tech DIY Standing Desk Experiment!


I decided that the first step before spending any money would be to see how uncomfortable it is to work standing up.


(What I can't figure out is how on earth that empty case of Two Buck Chuck got into our house?  Hmm, we must have borrowed it from a friend to cart fresh organic groceries back from the farmers market.  Yeah, that's it!)

Anyway, aside from the ergonomic faux pas of having the laptop keys too high and the screen too low, the experiment was a success!  I thought I'd be too distracted standing up to concentrate, but I started with just a half hour at a time and built up to a couple hours standing, interspersed with sitting breaks. It was fine!

Well, my lower back was a bit sore for a few days, but it adjusted.

Now here's the really weird thing.  So I'm not one of those "The Secret" types who are prone to attracting the things they focus on.  My general experience with the universe is that it's all pretty much a random crapshoot.  But check this out:

A couple of days after initiating the standing desk experiment, I had just snapped the above crappy picture and was writing a blog post in my mind as I headed out for a walk through town.  And guess what?  There by the side of the road was an ugly little table about two feet tall with a sign saying "Free" on it.  This forelorn looking excuse for furniture (it had brutally utilitarian pipes for legs, and was covered in rippled fake-wood-grain vinyl), may have not been sleek and tasteful, but it did have an adjustable base.   The top of the table was adjustable too--split into two panels that could be tilted at different angles. Hmm...

I stopped. I circled. I extended. I tilted.  I adjusted. I stood back a few feet and cocked my head.  I adjusted some more.

It was too freakin' much of a coincidence!  It could never work, right?

But I schlepped the thing home anyway:


And then put my monitor on it and my lap top under it:


And voila! I now I have a perfectly serviceable stand up desk FOR FREE!!!!

Thus far, I've gradually worked up to about 4 extra standing hours a day, with no ill effects.  So let the calorie-burning bonfire begin!

(And I'll be sure to report back if I have to start eating thousands of extra calories a day to keep from wasting away to nothing).

Note: if you start googling stand up desks, it's a little depressing.  They're not generally free.  However, there a few different options for stand up desks, including some DIY types like this one.  If anyone knows of any good resource links or helpful blog posts, please mention them in the comments and I'll add 'em to the list.

I'm thinking next ergonomic experiment, after I'm totally comfortable with standing most of the day? Maybe a Treadmill workstation.  Or better yet, I could move to the Bag Lady's ranch and start herding cattle!

Anyone curious about standing up or walking while working? Anyone already doing it?

55 comments:

  1. What about sitting on an exercise ball while working? I've heard that's better for you because you have to engage your core to stay upright?

    Since I don't work at home, I don't have many options for standing or treadmill desks. I do try to get up and walk around the office once an hour or so, though! And I'm thinking about the exercise-ball-as-chair thing.

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    1. I work in a cubicle all day and was able to make my desk standing, but it depends on your office setup. Our cubes are made of wall panels with notches all the way up and down them. The counters and file cabinets are attached via these notches. I had maintenance move my desk counter up high enough in the wall notches so I could stand. Then I got a few computer stands to put my monitor and keyboard on and viola! Standing desk. So check if your cubicle is adjustable. Or you can use boxes or adjustable stands to try and make a normal desk standing. I agree it's not easy - takes some creative thinking but it's def worth it :)

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  2. Crabby, good for you for doing that. It sounds like a good thing, but it holds no appeal for me at all at this time. I am too lazy to even stand up to write.

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  3. I was thinking about this standing versus sitting thing the other day and the increased risks that the study showed with sitting. Then I looked st my cat and she was sitting. Many animals spend time sitting and so it seems to me that sitting can't be that bad in and of itself.

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    1. Yeah, but how long do cats live?

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    2. Even when cats are running around all day... or fishes swimming all day long.. or flies flying for hours, their lives are just shorter. Sitting more or less has nothing to do with how much shorter those animals lives are.

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  4. oh- there is truth to it! As a 50 something who recently worked 4 months in acute care- rarely able to sit during 13 hour days- I lost 20 pounds. Then, I quite that job- (stressful, no life, unhappy environment too).
    Took a job working in the schools just 5 hours daily. Love the job, environment, and relative stress free) I have gained back 7 pounds despite running 3x weekly.
    Got to find a way to do this standing...

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  5. Perhaps we could strap your laptop to the back of a cow.... err... on second thought, in green grass season especially, that's not a good idea!
    But you're welcome to come up and help herd cows any darned time you want! :)
    I love your "rescue" desk. I oftentimes stand up while using my laptop because I'm multi-tasking and swing by the computer to check on things.
    Thanks for the linky, Crabby!

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  6. It is not an easy thing to convince employers to change from the tried and true. I think it will be quite a few years before we see stand up desks in offices, but I think it is a good idea for at home offices. It might clear some of the clutter I allow to pile up, but on the other hand, I have no room for another desk and will not give up the one I have ;)

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  7. A co-worker recently converted his desk to a stand-alone setup. He really likes it. If he ever needs a break, he has one of those huge ball things that always make me feel like I'm about to fall off.
    One added benefit to working standing up -- every time I come by his cube to ask a question, I see him standing and think "Oh, he's about to go somewhere; I should make this a brief discussion." He probably saves a lot of time that way ;)

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  8. Have been standing at my computer and desk for years. Even tilt monitors so i can stand at regular desks. It helps that i'm so short.

    In fact, i stand at the stove, at the counter, to fold clothes, to do just about everything. Seldom do i ever sit down.

    Sitting puts more pressure on the spine, and i have simply gotten used to it and prefer to stand, even in the back of the church when there are seats available.

    Yes, i'm weird, but maybe i'll live longer.

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  9. Oh Crabby! You made with laugh out loud with that somehow-found-themselves-watching-youtube bit. I actually snorted (I hardly ever do that. really).

    I'm sure I've said this before, but I find this whole 'sitting all day will kill you' thing incredibly frustrating because no one seems able to offer any practical solutions for those of us who have desk jobs. Much as I might like to quit my job so I don't have to sit all day, I really can't afford to.

    Good for you and the DIY stand up desk. I actually am looking to replace my desk at home - not that I really spend that much time at it - I'll have to keep this in mind. :)

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  10. How lucky that you found this at just the right time. I hope you find a difference. Then I hope you can convince me to do likewise. I really do spend far too much time at my computer.. standing would help.

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  11. Any posture/position that involves muscle activation is better than sitting still in a chair with your back against a back rest. Most of the time, we don't even sit correctly, which could present more risks than just lower daily caloric expenditure.

    FitBodyHype

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  12. You are too friggin funny how you write about real things in life - that is why we missed you!

    Yes, I have been reading about this for quite some time now but I am at home right now & a fidgeter at that so I do tend to get up & down & up & down!

    Funny thing though. A while back, I hurt my back & it took 2 weeks to recoup. It hurt to sit so I was standing most of the time I could & I actually lost a couple pounds!

    Eager to see how the experiment works out!

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  13. I think it's great that people are rethinking constant sitting, but standing all day can cause health problems, too: http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/ergonomics/standing/standing_basic.html

    Ideally, work stations should be set up so that people can switch positions....

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  14. Thanks folks, love to hear from the Cranky Posse! Some great input here re: stability balls etc, and of course Polly's scary link about the dangers of standing in one position too long. Part of my stand-up desk requirement was that it leave half my regular desk available for sitting breaks, but this was also a great reminder to make sure to shift positions a lot and walk around a bit too.

    Hey, and here's another idea: a clamp-on adjustable monitor holder to attach to a desktop to put the screen at the proper height (saw one on amazon for 30 bucks). Then just find something handy to set the keyboard on to raise it to standing height.

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  15. NIce set-up... I start my working day at the kitchen counter, working on my laptop from there. Then I'll usually move to the desk for a while, and return again to the counter in the afternoon. I like standing while working because it makes "thoughtful pacing" easier. And it's just more comfortable. But that's just me. I would also add that having a good chair makes all the difference to sitting. Worth spending a bit of money on IMHO.

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  16. This is why I converted to a standing desk. I am easily frightened by research! But what Dr. J wrote makes a lot of sense too, frankly.

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  17. When I work from home, I too put my laptop on my kitchen counter. Sometimes I work sitting on a stool; other times, I try to stand. But I get so lazy! I need to work on this more.

    A few years ago, I bought one of those portable stepper things - I used to keep it at the hotel where I stayed so that I could exercise in my room late at night when the fitness room was closed. However, I'm trying to make an effort to keep it near my counter, and then I do 5 minutes every hour (at least). Figure it's at least giving me a LITTLE movement to keep my butt from getting too settled :)

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  18. The table was clearly a sign of approval from God, supporting your quest ;).
    Just over 2 years ago, my chair broke (no not from my weight!) and I had a choice to kneel at my computor desk or put it at standing height on my chest of drawers. To the chest of drawers it went and I've not looked back since. If I've an essay to write, I'll happily stand for 5 hours or so with no probs whatsoever. The weird thing is that if you try to go back from standing to sitting, it is so so uncomfortable! Standing, as unconventional as it may be to the lazy modern human being is the way to go!!

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  19. The hard part for me is that I sit still a lot better than I stand still. When I use my standing desk (a stool on top of the table), it's a lot harder for me to focus than it is when I'm sitting--I want to walk around and go do things. The thing that's helping the most is taking slightly more breaks and reminding myself to set goals of finishing a task, not waiting a set period of time before letting myself unfocus for a few minutes, but I worry about my productivity.

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  20. I just got a contraption that sits on top of my desk and can be moved up and down. I attached my 27" iMac to it, and am now happily standing up, typing this.

    It was a tad expensive, but it's very heavy-duty and I don't have any worries about my computer doing a back flip off my desk. Now I just need to get the right surface to stand on so my feet and legs don't get tired.

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  21. Texas Instruments Inc, where I work at in the Dallas fab, we have adjustable desks and computers. We've had these for a few years now. We can choose to sit or stand. I love it!

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  22. I've been sitting down at work for the past 10 years. Eight hours a day. I just did not like what it might be doing to me, so two weeks ago, after reading the latest report on how sitting all day can kill you, I built something at home that lifts my desk to standing height. I've been standing now for 6 days at work. Yes my lower back hurts, but I feel like my legs are alive again, they are not just two things sticking out of my body. Losing weight this easily seems like a no brainer. Especially how much I hate walking/running for even an hour. Now I have to stand up for 8 hours a day and look forward to the weight coming off, we'll see if it actually works.

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  23. I've been standing for 8 hours a day since 24 May, and have yet to shed a pound. In fact, I've gained weight! Go figure, but I've gotten so used to it, and my posture has improved, so.... guess it's got some benefits!

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  24. I dragged an old fashioned lectern (podium?) into my office for my laptop and that works out swell. I am MUCH more alert and can think better in the afternoon this way. I can also stand next to my radiator and so, warmer. Probably warmer too b/c I am standing. Works great!

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  25. I just came across this article..but I too made a standing desk. In my cubicle using the copy paper box! I love to stand, although I do it in high heels, I feel much more alert and mobile! Besides when standing my tummy doesn't pouch out and strain my pants! :) I just feel better not sitting and my rear going numb! As far as weight loss...who knows, for me it is a mental thing!

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  26. I have been standing at work for the past 2 days now. I work from home so I put my laptop on the counter in the kitchen and it works out pretty well. My only problem is I get dizzy when I stand for too long. But today was better than yesterday in the dizziness sense. Forget dying early, I wanna burn the calories.

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  27. At my office, our desks are adjustable. With the pull of a lever it goes from a sitting work station to a standing one.. I prefer to stand at least half the day if I can..

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  28. Standing does burn around 100 Cal/Hr at least, but its fairly important what standing posture we have as standing longer placing more weight on one leg may cause foot stress.

    It also handy to have standing desk infrom of some window or bigger opening, so the body can align and keep its movement based on visual intrests.

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  29. Is the bad bit about sitting the fact that I'm spreading out my backside by sitting on it, or the fact that I'm not using the muscles that would be helping me to stand? If it's the former, would kneeling in front of the desk be helpful (assuming I don't mind looking as though I am worshiping my computer)?

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  30. I quit my old job to open up a business brokerage practice 4.5 years ago. My goal was to be on my own, and also a happier and healthier person. I started to work out and learned to eat clean, and slowly lost 40 pounds. I have a proper office downtown, but when we moved from an apartment to a house, I found myself working from home much more often (don't need makeup to be on the phone). I didn't have a home office yet, so found myself standing in the kitchen. And, once I out together a proper home office with desk, I'm still here in the kitchen! I think this has made a big difference, especially as the recession has eased up, work has been much busier and working out. . . Pretty much non-existent. My suggestion to those with office jobs is to do your phone calls standing up. In sales I was trained to stand up, as pacing can help the conversation,. Great post, obviously still relavent a year later!

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  31. Hah, I love that DIY desk of yours! I did one of those too at work with a simple box and it's pretty cool. Now I'm trying to figure out how to do the same thing at home!

    Eventually though, I want to get one of these.... http://www.ergodesktop.com/

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  32. Here is at least one link to an article documenting caloric differences... which seem to be a difference of about 20 calories/hour.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21979828

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  33. We have an limited stand-up desk program that is being rolled out at the office. Currently you need to have a medical reason to get one installed. I just recently was diagnosed with a herniated disc and was able to get one to help postpone the seemlingly enevitable back surgery. I'm going on week two of the desk, and I have to say I love it. I'm certainly not standing all the time, but I'm getting more and more hours in a day. I can already notice that I'm not getting as severe pain throughout the day and the numbness in my left leg seems to have vanished. It's popular with my colleagues too, I'm finding more meetings occuring in my office as stand-up meetings...and they are better meetings. More concise, to the point...I'm actually gaining more work time do to this darned desk! Who would have known!

    On the down side, I need to find more fashionable flats that have good cushion. Heels and the standing desk are not friends, so I'll have to retire my shoes to evening social events.

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  34. I've been using an electric standing desk for about four months now - I love it and the biggest change has been less hip pain (all of a sudden I was feeling the old hip joints creaking - alas time marches on). I do find on days where I snarf down extra calories I find myself standing for longer periods vs adjusting to sitting level - it just feels right ;-) or at least seems like a decent compromise

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  35. I'm so glad I stumbled across your article!! I found a website (http://www.juststand.org/tabid/637/language/en-US/default.aspx) that has a calculator that determines the approximate calorie difference between sitting and standing 8 hours per day at work. I also found on Google (can't remember the site, but I asked "how many calories burned at standing desk vs sitting")a calculator that will tell you, ergonomically, how high the desk/monitor/etc needs to be for your particular height to make working at a standing desk comfortable.

    Personally, I'm on day 3 of using a standing desk. I have a cubicle where the desktop it bolted into the cubicle walls, so raising it wasn't really a problem. I was surprised at the amount of work that it took to get them to do it, though. A few months ago, I was diagnosed with a herniated disc after several weeks of excruciating back pain. Standing was much more comfortable than sitting all day at work (not to mention the various health benefits), so I started looking into a standing desk. It took a doctor's note, which said I would benefit greatly from a standing desk, and voila! I worked in a retail store several years ago, so my body is somewhat familiar with standing all day. I have to say that I have been much more productive and my mind is much clearer with a standing desk. I've had several coworkers comment on how much they like it, so I wonder if I'm starting a trend... :)

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    1. Hey thanks anonymous, that was very helpful!

      If you are a regular person who happened to find that site, that was really generous of you to share it. And if you happen to work there, feel free to email me about partnership possibilities... (email is on the schmooze page)...seems like JustStand would make a great partner/sponsor in promoting stand-up awareness.

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  36. I think this is good, but I wonder about standing all day. I'm in my feet all day but if I don't move my legs swell.

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    1. Yep, definitely a good idea to move around! See the updated post mentioned above for one goofy idea on that.

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  37. OMG you are too freakin funny! LMAO

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  38. At my company we recently built a new office, and as part of that I requested a stand up desk area. I got it, and have been standing up there for the past 3 weeks.

    I have minor scoliosis and wedged L4/L5 vertebrae from sitting down too much, so I literally can't sit down at work anymore without real bad pain.

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  39. So you tried standing to burn calories but you did not lose any weight. You wanna know why? You burn an average of 100 calories an hour standing. Some burn more if they are heavier, and of course if you are also doing something with your upper body at the same time you may burn more too. So that all sounds peachy. However, you burn calories when you are sitting down too! In fact it averages as 85 calories. So, switching from sitting around to standing will burn off more calories....but only 15 more an hour! Don't expect to lose weight any time soon doing that :))

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  40. I used to sit all day and began to have hip and back issues. I found a Kangaroo desk station at www.ergodesktop.com which allows me to move my computer/monitor up and down to sit or stand. My goal is to stand for at least half the day. I am also considering getting a ball chair for when I do sit down. It definitely helps my SI joint and hip issues!

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  41. Thanks for this, you really gave me a much-needed bout of laughter this morning!

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  42. Way to go Crabby. I love your fun writing style. But seriously... When I took a full time sit down job, my chiropractor bill became significant - ow! my hips! Then hearing of the health benefits of standing I was determined to get a stand up desk. I work for a County gov, and holy keyboards are they unable to grasp the wellness concept. So w/o drawing attention to the operation, I added blocks under each of my desks feet - stabilized with 'wings' and lifted the whole thing up to standing level. I used magnets to drape fabric around the bottom so it doesn't look weird. Then I got a decent ($150) drafting stool for in between sits. I stand about 75% of the day. I'd post pics, but can't figure out how. Anyway, I can report that I no longer have hip/back issues, but I have not wasted away to nothing. Alas. Long-lived and steadfastly robust.

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  43. I work for a very generious employer who paid for anyone who wanted to get a electronic standup desk which rises at the touch of a button and I use my stepper while working - I love it!! When I sit down I have a small pedal stationary bike I bought for my regular desk but my knees kepting hitting but now i just raise the desk a few inches. The desk cost a small fortune but I work at a Gold mine so they can afford it a little more than most offices and they feel our health is very important - YEAH!! I goes a long way to employee loyality.

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  44. I just got a stand up station at work two days ago. I had no idea I would burn more calories??!!?! we will see how that goes! I do have to say, my legs and feet are not use to standing all day. Ouchy! I want to stand all day my entire 8 hour shift, I feel like I sit plenty outside of work. I am supper ADHD girl and I swear, I have noticed the standing helps me think clearer. I am currently fidgeting a lot while standing cus I am not use to it and it’s painful. I have on good shoes and I’m at anti fatigue pad. But I’m still not use to it. I imagine I should have eased into it. But yea, I did not. I will come back in a few months and tell you if I did indeed lose weight. Yippy for standing up!

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  45. I've been standing at my desk both at home and at work for years. For my laptop, I use a bed breakfast table. It's at the right level to type (as I'm doing right now), so it comes with me when I go to work. My desktop and keyboard are also raised at work on Cambria Quartz samples boxes. I also walk in place, and average about 25,000 steps on my Fitbit a day. Yes, I get some strange looks from my boss and customers, but when I explain what I'm doing, I feel like I'm spreading the important news of taking the stress of our backs! Paying it forward!

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  46. I was looking up standing versus sitting and found this. I think it is from a company that makes chairs that encourage movement (I don't work for them), but the nice thing is that they seem to support their article with actual research. They claim an additional 10 kcal/hour when you stand.

    http://varierusa.com/ergonomics-in-the-work-place/to-stand-or-to-sit-at-work-that-is-the-current-question-what-is-being-left-out-of-the-current-%E2%80%9Cstanding-versus-sitting%E2%80%9D-debate/#_edn7

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    1. Thank you Anita, that's a very helpful article and looks well researched and reasonable even though a chair company may lurk behind it. Thanks for sharing that!

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  47. I have made my desk a standing desk and have lost 5# in a little over a week. My legs and lower back have been killing me, but I haved worked sitting down for almost 10 years. It has gotten to the point that I have a hard time typing sitting! Love standing and working!

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  48. Varidesk.com!! I love mine - the price tag is a bit high but well worth it in the long run. I also purchased the supportive floor pad which helps "new standing feet". ALSO it comes with an app where you plug in your height and weight and it tracks your calories burned throughout the day. Two thumbs up! Have been standing for a month and it's a game changer ...

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  49. Last week I scored a stand up desk and stood with minimal (and I mean minimal) sitting the whole week. Tomorrow is the second week and I have to say other than working out some lighting kinks I am enjoying it. The rest of my day is spent walking back and forth from copier to fax, etc. so sitting was not a full time occupation to start. But if standing results in more calories burned I'm in.

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