How to burn a few extra calories while at work

On a number of occasions Travis has pointed to the negative health effects of sedentary activity, such as sitting, for extended periods of time. That is, regardless of the amount of exercise you get, the more time you spend sitting (an inevitable consequence of office work for many of us) the higher your risk of disease. Thus, we should be trying our best to limit the amount of time we spend sitting.

Some people are proponents of things like the treadmill desk. Some prefer sitting on an exercise ball. Others enjoy simply standing at their desk.

But what is the caloric expenditure of these various activities? How comfortable is it to work while standing or sitting on an exercise ball?

A study published back in 2008 specifically addressed this issue.

In the study, a total of 24 men and women employed in sedentary clerical occupations were asked to perform a typing task under 3 conditions: sitting in office chair, sitting on an exercise ball, or standing. During this time, their heart rate and oxygen consumption were measured to assess caloric expenditure. Additionally, each participant rated their level of fatigue, comfort, and general liking for each situation.

In terms of caloric expenditure, both the sitting on an exercise ball and standing conditions resulted in greater energy expenditure than working while sitting in an office chair – approximately 4 more calories per hour.

In terms of participants’ subjective experience, they felt the exercise ball was as comfortable to sit on while working as was the office chair, but both of these sitting postures were more comfortable than standing (not surprisingly). The participants also rated their level of fatigue higher when sitting on the ball or while standing in contrast to the office chair. And finally, in terms of general liking – participants preferred to work while seated – regardless of whether they were seated in a chair or on an exercise ball.

For all of you productivity nuts out there, you may also be curious to see how much work the participants completed under the 3 conditions. The authors of the study assessed the total number of words typed during a 20 minute period, and found compareable numbers of words typed across teh conditions.

Take home message? If you’re getting bored of your office chair, maybe its time to slowly introduce sitting on an exercise ball for at least a part of your work day. You’ll be equally as comfortable and productive, but you’ll burn a few extra calories.

More important than the few extra calories, you’ll be the topic of discussion around the water cooler.

Have a great Monday,


Beers, E., Roemmich, J., Epstein, L., & Horvath, P. (2008). Increasing passive energy expenditure during clerical work European Journal of Applied Physiology, 103 (3), 353-360 DOI: 10.1007/s00421-008-0713-y

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