According to a 2013 BBC article, most people sit more than 12 hours a day. If you factor in another 7-8 hours for sleep, most people are sedentary for 19-20 hours per day. It seems our modern society is wiring us to be so sedentary.
We sit during transportation; many people sit all day for work and most people sit at home in the evenings watching TV or being on a computer.
A 2012 article (1) from Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice suggests too much sitting is associated with increasing risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular risk factors and premature morality.
Therefore, many health experts suggest we try to stand more throughout the day or break up long periods of sitting.
Something most people do sitting down is eat. During the day, it can be common to sit and eat at your work station, eat in the car, etc.
However, if you eat standing up, do you burn more calories? You may burn more calories standing up compared to sitting, but there are other ways standing up when eating may impact your food intake.
Does eating standing up help you lose weight?
A 170-pound adult burns about 139 calories for 1 hour of sitting and about 186 calories for 1 hour of standing.
So, for one hour a day, if you weigh 170 pounds, you can burn about an extra 47 calories for every hour you stand instead of sit.
Data from the University of Chester (2) suggests standing increases heart rate compared to sitting of about 10 beats per minute.
This could translate to an increase of about 0.7 calories per minute more you burn standing compared to sitting.
This translates to a difference of about 40-50 calories per hour. Therefore, even standing 3-4 hours a day instead of sitting could help you potentially burn an extra 120-200 per day.
Do you digest food better sitting or standing?
After chewing food, saliva mixed with food travels down the esophagus and into the stomach. While in the stomach, food essentially gets pulverized from stomach acid and the churning of the stomach into tiny molecules.
These tiny molecules then travel to the small intestine where nutrients can get absorbed across the intestinal wall.
The type of food you eat can impact your rate of digestion. For example, fiber and protein can delay gastric emptying. This can help increase satiety and can help keep appetite low hours after eating.
However, if you eat primarily simple carbohydrates, these nutrients enter the blood stream relatively quick. Hunger can quickly return after eating.
Another impact on digestion is your body posture. When you are sitting or lying down, food leaves the stomach slower compared to standing.
A 1988 study (3) compared the effects of body posture on gastric emptying. Researchers found the lying position significantly slowed gastric emptying compared to other body postures.
The standing position increased rate of gastric emptying.
If gastric emptying takes less time, hunger onset may be quicker. Therefore, eating while standing may increase gastric emptying which may actually increase your food intake over time.
Calorie expenditure is high when standing, but the difference in calorie amount is minimal because most people eat quickly.
Yes, calorie burn when standing can be about 50 calories higher per hour, but most people eat a meal standing rather quickly.
Compared to sitting, you can eat more slowly which may help your body register time to signal fullness. It may also help slow rate of gastric emptying.
If you are standing and eating quickly, this could hinder proper digestion. You may be more likely to inhale air when eating hastily and standing compared to eating slowly and sitting.
If you do tend to eat when standing, make sure you take your time and don’t rush through the meal. Whether you are sitting or standing, this is the more important factor.
Meal or snack?
A 2010 study (4) surveyed 122 people about food and environment cues. Most people associate eating a meal with sitting down when eating. Therefore, if you are standing while you eat, your brain may register food intake as a “snack” even if you are eating a meal.
Therefore, no matter if you are sitting or standing, it is important to practice mindfulness when you are eating. If you are eating a meal standing up, recognize it as a meal and not a snack.
One instance where increasing gastric emptying may be beneficial is if you have heart burn. Heart burn can happen when the stomach acid leaks out into the esophagus.
The harsh acid burns the esophagus which does not have the same protective layer that the stomach has to buffer the acid level. If you have heart burn, it is often recommended to avoid lying down hours after eating.
Lying down can increase the possibility of stomach acid leaking into the esophagus because gravity is working with acid flowing towards the esophagus.
Standing while eating can help gravity work against acid reflux and can be advantageous to avoid heart burn. If you have acid reflux, speak with your doctor about what is best for your treatment plan.
Most Americans sit too much during the day. This can be harmful to health because too much sitting is associated with increasing risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even premature death. Breaking up periods of sitting with movement is recommended.
However, if you eat standing up instead of sitting make sure you are registering your food intake. It may be easy to overdue your food intake if you are not registering it as a “meal”.
Also note gastric emptying may be speeded up which could alter your sense of feeling full. If you have heart burn, eating standing up could help lower risk for acid reflux.
The bottom line is whether you eat standing up or sitting, be mindful of your food intake and eat slowly to allow your body be able to register when you are full (not stuffed).