Can I burn calories while sitting?

Sitting for long periods of time has been associated with various health risks like obesity, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease. With more and more jobs involving desk work and sedentary lifestyles becoming the norm, many people wonder if they can still burn calories and stay active while sitting.

Calorie Burning Basics

Calories refer to the energy content in food. The number of calories your body burns each day is dependent on factors like age, sex, body size, and activity level. To maintain weight, the calories consumed must equal the calories burned. To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume.

The amount of calories burned while at rest is referred to as your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This accounts for 60-75% of the calories you burn each day. Physical activity makes up the rest of your daily calorie expenditure. The more active you are, the higher your calorie burn.

Calorie Burn While Sitting

While sitting still, you are burning calories – just enough to sustain basic physiological functions like breathing, blood circulation, nutrient metabolism, and tissue repair. This is your BMR at work. The exact number varies per individual. For the average adult, the calorie burn rate while inactive is about 1-2 calories per minute.

So in an 8-hour workday spent mostly sitting, you could burn:

1 cal/min x 60 mins x 8 hours = 480 calories

2 cals/min x 60 mins x 8 hours = 960 calories

This calorie expenditure is quite modest compared to more vigorous activities. For example, a 155 pound person would burn around 298 calories per hour while walking briskly. The same person would only burn 114-228 calories per hour while sitting. However, any calorie burn counts!

Ways to Burn More Calories While Seated

While you won’t torch as many calories seated versus hitting the gym, there are still ways to ramp up your calorie burn while sitting:

  • Fidget – Tap your feet, wiggle your legs, or make other small movements.
  • Perform desk exercises – For example, do calf raises, knee lifts, or chair squats.
  • Take active breaks – Get up frequently to walk around, stretch, or go up/down stairs.
  • Replace your chair with an active sitting device like a balance ball or pedal exerciser.
  • Engage your core and practice good posture.
  • Increase muscle tension in your legs and glutes.

Research has shown that making simple movements like typing or fidgeting can increase calorie burn while seated by 20-30% above your BMR. Getting up for 2-3 minutes of light activity every half hour can also considerably boost your daily calorie expenditure.

Calorie Burn From Active Sitting Devices

Devices designed for active sitting make it easier to burn extra calories while seated. Here are some popular options:

Stability Ball

Replacing your desk chair with an exercise ball engages your core, back, and leg muscles to help you burn 5-12% more calories. Using a stability ball for 3-6 hours per day could burn an extra 40-100 calories.

Pedal Exerciser

Pedal exercisers allow you to pedal while seated at your desk. Using a pedal exerciser at a moderate pace for one hour can burn up to 125 calories.

Desk Bikes

Desk bikes have a pedal mechanism attached under your desk to allow cycling while you work. At a casual pedaling rate, desk bikes can burn around 100 calories per hour.

Treadmill Desks

Treadmill desks enable you to walk at a slow pace while working on your computer. Walking at 2 mph on a treadmill desk for an hour could burn around 200 calories.

The table below compares the approximate calorie burn from using different active sitting devices:

Active Sitting Device Calories Burned Per Hour
Stability Ball 40-100 calories
Pedal Exerciser Up to 125 calories
Desk Bike 100 calories
Treadmill Desk (2 mph) 200 calories

Other Benefits of Active Sitting

Beyond the potential calorie burn, there are other advantages to building more movement into your sitting time:

  • May increase focus and productivity
  • Helps relieve stiffness from prolonged sitting
  • Engages more muscles to distribute load
  • Improves posture and core strength
  • Increases blood circulation
  • Alleviates back, neck and shoulder pain

Tips for Active Sitting

Here are some tips to follow for safely increasing your calorie expenditure through active sitting:

  • Start slow – Gradually increase your activity to allow your body to adapt.
  • Pay attention to posture – Maintain a neutral spine and avoid slouching or rounding your shoulders.
  • Listen to your body – Avoid movements that cause pain or discomfort.
  • Take breaks – Get up and move around periodically to avoid muscle fatigue.
  • Stay hydrated – Drink plenty of fluids when active for prolonged periods.
  • Vary your movements – Switch between different active sitting techniques throughout the day.

The Bottom Line

While you won’t burn nearly as many calories actively sitting versus more intense exercise, small movements do add up over time. Devices like stability balls, pedal exercisers and treadmill desks can further boost your calorie expenditure while seated.

Active sitting also provides other fringe benefits beyond calorie burn like improved circulation, posture and focus. Just be sure to listen to your body, take breaks, and maintain proper technique.

Combining active sitting with reduced sedentary time, more activity breaks, and other exercise will maximize your daily calorie burn and health.

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