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The Energy Cost of Sitting versus Standing Naturally in Man

BETTS, JAMES A.1; SMITH, HARRY A.1; JOHNSON-BONSON, DRUSUS A.1; ELLIS, TOM I.1; DAGNALL, JOSEPH1; HENGIST, AARON1; CARROLL, HARRIET1; THOMPSON, DYLAN1; GONZALEZ, JAVIER T.1; AFMAN, GREGG H.2

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: April 2019 - Volume 51 - Issue 4 - p 726–733
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001841
APPLIED SCIENCES
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Purpose Prolonged sitting is a major health concern, targeted via government policy and the proliferation of height-adjustable workstations and wearable technologies to encourage standing. Such interventions have the potential to influence energy balance and thus facilitate effective management of body/fat mass. It is therefore remarkable that the energy cost of sitting versus standing naturally remains unknown.

Methods Metabolic requirements were quantified via indirect calorimetry from expired gases in 46 healthy men and women (age, 27 ± 12 yr; mass, 79.3 ± 14.7 kg; body mass index, 24.7 ± 3.1 kg·m−2, waist/hip, 0.81 ± 0.06) under basal conditions (i.e., resting metabolic rate) and then, in a randomized and counterbalanced sequence, during lying, sitting and standing. Critically, no restrictions were placed on natural/spontaneous bodily movements (i.e., fidgeting) to reveal the fundamental contrast between sitting and standing in situ while maintaining a comfortable posture.

Results The mean (95% confidence interval [CI]) increment in energy expenditure was 0.18 (95% CI, 0.06–0.31 kJ·min−1) from resting metabolic rate to lying was 0.15 (95% CI, 0.03–0.27 kJ·min−1) from lying to sitting and 0.65 (95% CI, 0.53–0.77 kJ·min−1) from sitting to standing. An ancillary observation was that the energy cost of each posture above basal metabolic requirements exhibited marked interindividual variance, which was inversely correlated with resting heart rate for all postures (r = −0.5; −0.7 to −0.1) and positively correlated with self-reported physical activity levels for lying (r = 0.4; 0.1 to 0.7) and standing (r = 0.6; 0.3–0.8).

Conclusions Interventions designed to reduce sitting typically encourage 30 to 120 min·d−1 more standing in situ (rather than perambulation), so the 12% difference from sitting to standing reported here does not represent an effective strategy for the treatment of obesity (i.e., weight loss) but could potentially attenuate any continued escalation of the ongoing obesity epidemic at a population level.

1Department for Health, University of Bath, Bath, UNITED KINGDOM; and

2Department of Kinesiology, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA

Address for correspondence: James A. Betts, Ph.D., F.A.C.S.M., Department for Health, University of Bath, Bath, BA2 7AY, United Kingdom; E-mail: J.Betts@bath.ac.uk.

Submitted for publication August 2018.

Accepted for publication October 2018.

© 2019 American College of Sports Medicine