21 September 2010

Is it better to eat standing up?

On the positive side you may burn more calories but you could also end up snacking your way through more food

The boss has decided not to sit down at work. His desk has been raised so that he can type standing up and he also likes to eat while standing. Now he is encouraging us to do the same, arguing that sitting down is not good for the digestion. Is this true?
This is an “interesting one”. From a political point of view, you clearly can’t go bowling in to tell your boss that you think he’s nuts. Saying that, there may be some health advantages that are worth considering.
The main one is that standing up all day — versus sitting down — means that you burn more calories. If a 9st 7lb woman sits for eight hours she will burn around 510 calories. If she were to stand for the same amount of time, she would burn something like 1,085. There is also evidence that sitting down for long periods may increase your risk, if already prone, of developing deep vein thrombosis.

I can’t find any convincing evidence that standing up is better for your digestion, although Jeya Henry, Professor of Nutrition at Oxford Brookes University, says that diet-induced thermogenesis may increase if a person stands while eating. In simple terms, this means that the natural phenomenon, whereby more calories are burnt after you eat, rises farther.

But there are disadvantages, too. One is that it encourages people to eat more, for example, if they are cooking and absentmindedly picking at ingredients or hoovering up leftovers while clearing the table. Even worse, we are less likely to remember eating these extra titbits. Of course, given that lots of people graze all day at their desks from charity snack machines to fully loaded christmas gift hampers, this argument probably doesn’t hold much water in a work environment.

Another concern about standing and eating while working is that it implies you will be spending all day at your desk. Again, I know a lot of people do this while seated, but it is better for your general well-being to take a break away from the office at lunchtime — whether standing or sitting — and to eat in a different environment. Doing this could produce more digestive juices, making you less prone to indigestion. It also encourages you to eat more slowly, which in turn can help you to eat less.

Taking this farther, it is a good rule not to allow any food at your desk. If you want a snack, leave your work station — you are more likely to remember it and account for it in your mental calorie count for the day.
Ultimately, perhaps the solution lies in doing a bit of both. In the World Health Organisation’s offices in Copenhagen, staff apparently have adjustable desks that have a lever at the side and can be raised to allow you to stand and work, and lowered again to sit when you need a break.

Given that most offices in the UK probably won’t invest in this kind of office furniture because more staff are keen to have more home like furniture, perhaps the best way forward is to improvise.

Here’s one: stand while making phone calls. That should burn a few calories.