Continuously moving while sitting at a desk may boost metabolic rate more than sitting or standing at a desk, according to new research led by the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Busy office environmentShare on Pinterest
Using a desk fitted with a movable footrest raises metabolic rate more than sitting or standing at a desk.

Lead study author Craig A. Horswill, a clinical associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and colleagues conducted the study. Horswill is an expert in metabolism and exercise.

Their findings were published in the journal WORK.

Physical activity and healthful eating habits are crucial to maintaining good health. Each year in the United States, an estimated 300,000 deaths are likely caused by physical inactivity and consuming an unhealthful diet. These deaths occur across numerous conditions, including stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer.

A significant part of the problem is working in an office and sitting at a desk for 8 hours per day.

Previous research has shown that individuals who work at a desk have larger waists and a greater risk of heart disease. One study reported that although participants spent around 73 percent of their working day sitting down, many of them wanted to sit down less and spend more time exercising as part of their working day.

Some companies have employed strategies to help their workers be less desk-bound, such as incorporating yoga into their day, organizing lunchtime activities, and providing treadmill desks, standing desks, and regular walking breaks.

A study that compared sitting and sit-stand desks revealed that employees with sit-stand desks not only stood for 60 more minutes than people who remained seated, but they also burned 87 more calories per day.

Although it is best to avoid being sedentary for long periods, fidgeting has been demonstrated to help counteract the adverse effects of sitting — findings that have been further emphasized by the new study.

According to Horswill, “Sitting is bad for our health, but it is a big part of daily life for many people. Exercise is a good way to counteract the negative effects of sitting, but just incorporating physical activity into one part of our day may not be enough to overcome the damage caused by prolonged sitting and an otherwise sedentary lifestyle.”

The researchers compared the effect of sitting at a desk, sitting at a desk fitted with a movable footrest that allows the feet to swing, teeter, or twist, and standing at a desk on metabolic rate.

Metabolic rate and heart data were collected during each stage. Participants moved through each 15-minute stage of sitting, sitting with the device, and standing.

Using a desk fitted with the moving device raised metabolic rate 7 percent more than standing and 17 percent more than just sitting. Movement while sitting had no impact on the cognitive function of participants.

“These results suggest that non-exercise active thermogenesis, which we call NEAT, can increase movement and calorie burning, and may have the potential to impact health,” reports Horswill.

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.”

Craig A. Horswill

Horswill notes that NEAT is something that everyone can do and may help toward improving health and even reduce the rates of early death.

Although further research needs to be completed to confirm the findings, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that NEAT could be a viable solution for those who are unable to use standing desks due to injury or disability.