This year I’ve made a serious effort to improve my physical fitness. I started lifting weights in August, and worked hard to commute to work as much as I could by bicycle (6.7 miles each way) or ski (4.1 miles). I commuted on 102 days this year, which is 40% of the possible work days in the year. I also spent a lot of time out on the trails with our now 15-year old dog, Nika. In May, I set up a standing desk at work, and as I’ll demonstrate below, this is a significant improvement over spending all those hours sitting, at least for energy consumption. As a result of all this, I feel like I am in the best shape of my life, and that makes me feel good as I enter middle age.
Here’s the summary of what I did this year (details on the calculations appear below):
The other thing I did was start standing up at my desk at work. I spent 1,258 hours at my desk after I started standing. According to the Compendium of Physical Activities, standing at work consumes 2.3 metabolic equivalent units (MET). This is the ratio of work metabolic rate over resting metabolic rate, which would be 1.0 MET. Thus, standing uses an additional 1.3 MET over resting. Sitting at a desk is 1.5 MET, which means standing adds 0.8 MET.
To use these numbers, you need an estimate of your resting metabolic rate. Using the Mifflin et al. equation on this page I get 1,691 Kcal/day, or 70.5 Kcal per hour for my height, weight, and age. For those 1,258 hours standing at work I burned an additional 71 thousand calories: 1,258 • 0.8 • 70.5 = 70,951 Kcal (the “calories” reported on food labels are technically kilocalories (Kcal) in energy units). That’s a lot of energy, just by standing instead of sitting.
The energy values in the table above were also calculated using the same methods. I fiddled with the tabular values from the compendium and got the following approximations:
- Running MET = 1.653 • speed (mph)
- Skiing = ((speed - 2.5) / 2) + 7
- Bicycling = speed - 5
- Hiking = 6
- Skating = 5.5
- Lifting = 6
Despite the amount of energy consumed by standing instead of sitting at work, I think there is a real benefit to the more intense exercises listed in the table. These strengthen and build skeletal and cardiovascular muscle in ways that simply standing all day don’t.
When all the numbers are totaled, I burned an extra 512 calories (318 exercising, 194 standing) each day in 2011. That’s certainly worth a beer or two, and I look and feel better for it even drinking them!