7 Science-Backed Ways to Burn Calories While Sitting

January 03, 2018

woman working on desk with laptop

The human body burns calories no matter what you’re doing—whether you’re running a marathon or sleeping in bed. Our bodies use up energy to perform essential processes that are necessary for everyday living, such as respiration and blood flow, which is why we burn calories even when we don’t move at all.

The number of calories you typically burn per hour will depend on your basal metabolic rate (the amount of energy used by your body while at rest)—also known as your metabolism. A person with a “fast” metabolism will burn more calories than others, even while sitting or standing perfectly still. But of course, the more strenuous the activity, the more calories are burned, which is why working out plays a big factor in increasing the number of calories we burn per day.

If you have a slower metabolism, you’ll need to work much harder to burn enough calories to maintain your weight or achieve caloric deficit (which means the body uses up more calories than it consumes) and lose weight.

Aside from working out more and eating a healthy, calorie-conscious diet, one way to achieve caloric deficit is to boost your metabolic rate during times when you’re not working out—like when you’re sitting at your desk at the office, for instance.

How to Burn More Calories While Sitting

There are several ways to burn more calories even while we’re sitting in front of our desks, on the couch, or even in school. But for best results, it’s important to choose those that are recommended by health experts and backed by extensive research and clinical studies.

Drink Green Tea

two cups of green tea

Instead of buying a latte or cappuccino for your daily caffeine fix, opt for green tea instead. According to Christopher Ochner, PhD., a research scientist in nutrition at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, green tea is perhaps "the healthiest thing” you can possibly drink. While it doesn’t actually melt the pounds off, it contains catechins, a type of antioxidant that works with caffeine to supposedly increase your metabolic rate, thus making you burn more calories even when at rest.

In addition to its metabolism-boosting powers, green tea also contains theanine, an amino acid that helps you stay mentally calm yet completely alert. This is perfect for desk workers as it can ease work-related stress and anxiety, which helps prevent mindless snacking or overeating.

Whenever you feel like having a drink while sitting in the office or on the couch, Ochner suggests substituting 1 to 2 cups of green tea for a can of soda to help you avoid more than 50,000 calories or 15 pounds over the next year.

If you’re not a fan of tea, black coffee can also produce a similar effect. However, make sure to drink the caffeinated kind—and avoid the cream and sugar at all costs.

Maintain Good Posture

man working in laptop

Maintaining good posture while sitting works the muscles in your upper body, shoulders, and back. Famed doctor, TV personality, and health expert Dr. Mehmet Oz states that this seemingly minimal change in the way you sit helps strengthen your core and promotes additional calorie burn due to the fact that you end up exerting more effort in keeping your body straight and upright.

Research on the correlation between posture allocation and energy expenditure (EE) reveals that frequently alternating between sitting and standing is more effective in increasing the calories you burn, but there is still some benefit in simply engaging the muscles when sitting or standing for long periods of time. “Maintaining posture, whether upright or seated, requires a certain degree of muscle tone and isometric contraction of stabilizing muscles,” explains Dr. Jennifer L. Miles-Chan and Dr. Abdul G. Dulloo of the University of Fribourg. “Increasing postural muscle activation could present not only an opportunity to increase [energy expenditure], but also to increase the relative rate of fat oxidation.”

Perfect posture means tightening your abs, straightening your back, pulling your neck and shoulders back in a more relaxed position, and elongating your spine like you’re being pulled up by a string from the top of your head. Alternatively, you can use an exercise ball to increase the challenge and build your strength as you work harder to maintain the posture.

Perform Desk Exercises

Beyond the desire to have thinner waistlines and leaner muscles, there’s a real need for us to maintain a constant stream of activity to reduce the negative effects of our sedentary lifestyles. According to multiple studies, staying still for long periods of time leads to serious health concerns such as diabetes, heart problems, and obesity. This puts desk workers at risk, even if they exercise regularly.

According to a study by the National Institute of Health, it is recommended that we use least 60 minutes of our day for regular physical activity in at least 10 minute increments to counteract the effects of sedentary behavior. Desk exercise equipment like the SitFlow desk swing makes this easy by encouraging low-level movement in the lower body without distracting you from work. As a result, you unconsciously burn calories while simultaneously increasing your productivity and alertness.

Using desk exercise equipment has already been proven to be an effective—and fun—way to increase calorie burn while sitting at the office, at home, or even in school. As a bonus, these  workstation devices also offer other health benefits such as improved blood circulation and reduced stress.

Laugh More

office employee laughing on photos

Believe it or not, genuine laughter can actually help you burn more calories. Many studies over the years have proven that laughter has real benefits for the human body, both physically and mentally. But if you’re simply concerned about burning off some extra calories while sitting at your desk, a study conducted back in 2007 revealed that “genuine voiced laughter” increases your EE and heart rate (HR) by around 10-20% more than when you are at rest, thus concluding that even just 10 to 15 minutes of laughter can help you burn about 10 to 40 more calories.

The caveat here is that laughing for extended periods of time would probably not be possible at the office or in school since you may end up disrupting your co-workers or fellow students. Therefore, you may want to reserve this for when you are sitting and relaxing at home. Watch more comedy films and TV shows to combine your idle leisure time with a modest calorie burning session!

Drink Lots of Water

woman adding water on glass with lemon slice

One of the amazing benefits of drinking multiple glasses of water regularly is that it serves as a way for you to use up energy even while at rest. Over 10 studies show that increased water intake makes the body burn extra calories, thus showing that it can actually lead to weight loss in both children and adults. More specifically, a study on water-induced thermogenesis (the process of heat production in the body) found that drinking 500ml of water increased metabolic rate by 30% in 14 healthy participants of normal weight. The boost in metabolic rate was fueled by fats in men, and by carbohydrates in women.

In addition to the calorie-burning benefits, drinking water keeps you from making the common mistake of confusing thirst for hunger, which is one of the main culprits of constant snacking and overeating. Plus, when you finally feel the urge to pee, bathroom trips are a great excuse to stand up and get moving!

Eat Spicy Food

kimchi serving on plate

For those who love spicy food, here’s some good news for you. Studies show that capsaicin, the spice factor in peppers, serves as a thermogenic substance that triggers the body to generate heat, thereby increasing calorie burn and promoting fat oxidation. Another study reveals that capsaicin helps combat obesity by increasing satiety and fullness, which helps prevent overeating or excessive calorie intake.

If you don’t mind the heat, stock up on spicy snacks and meals for when you’re watching a movie or for snacking at the office—but don’t overdo it. While capsaicin does have certain health and weight benefits, it’s been used to selectively destroy nerve fibers that are responsible for sending signals from your gut to your brain, which can’t be good for your health in the long run.

Chew Your Food Slowly

woman eating vegetable dish

As it turns out, the difference between obese and lean people is not only observed by the amount of food that they eat but also in the way that they consume it. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people with obesity tend to chew their food less than people who are of lean weight, even if they take bites of the exact same size.

“Improving chewing activity could become a useful tool for combating obesity,” states the authors of a different published preliminary research. The same study suggests that eating slowly and chewing your food more thoroughly until “no lumps remain” can help you burn about 10 extra calories for every 300-calorie meal—which can theoretically total up to 2,000 extra calories burned per month.

BONUS: Stop Snacking

man eating a donut

While this tip doesn’t necessarily help you burn more calories, it does help you decrease the calories you consume.

Snacking on the job is pretty common behavior among desk workers, especially when there’s no time to grab a quick lunch. However, according to research by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the  Food Surveys Research Group (FSRG), frequent snacking is associated with an increase in calories and a decrease in nutrients. While it is better to eat at work than have a “hangry” episode, the study cites that we should reduce our intake of fatty and sugary food, and not go past our personal overall calorie needs per day.

If you truly must have some snacks, get yourself some healthier, fat-burning treats that are nutrient-dense and fewer in calories. You can even choose to place them somewhere that’s slightly out of reach so that you’ll have to stand up and walk whenever you feel the urge to munch on something.

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