How to boost your metabolism just sitting

If your job keeps you chained to a desk all day, you probably cringe every time you hear that sitting is bad for your health.

It’s even been called the new smoking because it increases your risk for diseases and shortens your lifespan nearly as much as sucking down the old cancer sticks.

But if sitting all day is how you pay the bills, what are you supposed to do? Short of starting a whole new career, you don’t have a lot of options. So the question is: What can you do to make the time you spend sitting less harmful to your health?

A lot of people solve their sitting dilemma by investing in a standing desk. But if you haven’t gotten one yet, don’t bother with the hassle and expense, because there’s a secret way to make sitting healthier than standing anyway…

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Sit down for a better metabolism

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago recently found that you can make sitting healthier than standing by moving your legs more while you sit.

These researchers tested the metabolic rate and heart rate of people who moved between three different working positions. They started by sitting at a regular desk for 15 minutes. Then they sat at a desk equipped with a movable footrest to encourage leg movement for 15 minutes. Then they stood up for 15 minutes.

And guess what?

Sitting at the desk that encourages leg movement boosted metabolic rate the most — even more than standing. In fact, the leg moving desk boosted metabolic rate by 17 percent, while standing only boosted it by 7 percent. Why?

Well, researchers say it all comes down to non-exercise active thermogenesis (NEAT), or the energy you use during the day on things other than exercise, sleeping and eating.  All those little movements you make throughout the day (including moving your legs at your desk) add up and help you burn more calories.

“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,” said Craig Horswill, the senior author of the study. “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.”

Start moving while you sit

I have good news…

A movable footrest like the one they used in the study is something you can easily buy…and it’s much cheaper than a standing desk.

In fact, you could spend as little as $10 to $20 on a simple sitting stepper, which encourages you to pump your feet up and down while you sit. There are also portable foot pedals you can put under your desk to mimic the exercise you’d get biking…and you can get those for $30 to $40.  Or you can spend over $100 on something fancier, like the footrest they used in the study, which attached under the desk and allowed the feet to swing, twist or teeter. There are options for all preferences and budgets.

If you don’t want to spend money on a movable footrest, don’t fret. You don’t need a device to move more while you sit. Just do leg exercises at your desk throughout the day. You can:

  • Straighten your leg, raise it and hold it for a few seconds. Practice a few reps on each leg several times throughout the day.
  • Keep your knee bent, raise your leg and hold it for a few seconds. Practice a few reps on each leg several times throughout the day.
  • Lift your heels off the floor as high as possible, then lower them again. Practice 20 to 30 reps at various times throughout the day.

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  1. Can you burn calories while sitting at a desk? — MedicalXpress. Retrieved December 20, 2017.
  2. A. Levine. “Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).” — Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2002 Dec;16(4):679-702.
  3. 9 Exercises You Can Do While Sitting DownPrevention. Retrieved December 20, 2017.
  4. Deskercise: 6 Discreet Desk Exercises To Keep You In Shape While You Work — Medical Daily. Retrieved December 20, 2017.
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine,, and