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Walking It Out: How Treadmill Desks Can Boost Your Health

December 19, 2014

treaddeskAre you sitting at your desk right now?

Were you sitting at your desk an hour ago? Were you in the same spot this morning? Will you be there this afternoon?

If so, you could be one of the millions of Americans who is simply sitting too much. The typical US adult is sedentary for 60 percent of their waking hours and sits for an average of 6 hours per day, which is shown to increase blood pressure and decrease bone density. Sitting too much is linked to weight gain, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and early death.

Kind of unsettling, for sure. So how do you get off your butt?

One company has a fix for you, but it’s no walk in the park.

LifeSpan makes treadmill desks designed to keep you on your feet and moving while you work. The treadmills have features like adjustable-height desks, speed controls, mileage and time counters, and Bluetooth capability that allows you to wirelessly sync your progress to the company's fitness apps.

But the reviews are, well, a bit mixed.

HCSS bought a LifeSpan 1200-DT5 treadmill desk in late 2013, and at first, a lot of our employees checked it out. Eventually, usage dwindled down to a handful of people. One consistent user is technical support analyst Clint Estep, who started using the machine after suffering a running injury.

Estep, who had averaged 20 miles per week on his gym’s treadmills, feared not maintaining his workout regimen, so he added in the treadmill desk to keep himself moving.

“Now I’m back to no problems with my legs, but I still supplement my running with the treadmill desk because it is just extra burned calories,” he said. “The best part is that work flies by when you are on it.  It seems to take my mind off the clock. I look up, and it’s 6 miles later.”

But not everyone is so smitten with the contraption. Business Insider did several pieces on the treadmill desk, including a video in which its own employees hopped on for a ride. Some liked it. Some were less than pleased.

SEE THE FULL VIDEO HERE.

The reactions ranged from “Can I quit this? I’m miserable. This is stupid,” to “I feel fine, like I could do this for a long time.”

The main complaints were that walking made typing and clicking with the mouse were more difficult. And, basically, the users were tired. But that might be part of the issue—people aren’t used to moving all day anymore. We sit in chairs at our desks and don’t move except for lunch.

tr1200-dt7_model

Estep said he doesn’t have to type much, but he doesn’t find working any more difficult while walking on the treadmill. He still has to answer his support calls in three rings or less, whether he’s walking or sitting.

“It’s a learned skill, for sure,” he said. “Double-click is almost impossible, and typing paragraphs at full speed can cause more backspacing than usual. But it tops out at 4.0 mph, which is just fast enough for a very brisk pace. It’s still manageable to carry on a phone conversation and use a mouse and type at that speed.”

Technically, most people probably shouldn’t go faster than about 2.0 mph on the treadmill desk, at least until they get used to it. Most of the complaints from the video were from people trying to go too fast, too soon.

But there are some real issues with the treadmill. The Wall Street Journal reported that exercise workstations actually decrease typing speed and accuracy by 16 percent compared to a standard desk. Motor skills, such as using the mouse, also go down about 11 percent.

But using a standing desk, like the VariDesks HCSS employees use, can cause its own set of problems such as leg fatigue, poor valve function in veins (varicose veins), and pressure on the knees and back. And it’s a scientific fact that sitting all day just is not good for us.

So what’s the right answer?

Basically, it’s whatever works best for you. Whether it’s hopping on a moving treadmill to make phone calls, standing at a raised desk to answer emails, or just getting up for 10 minutes every hour to stretch your legs, we should all be moving more and sitting less—doctor’s orders.

Does your company have a wellness program to keep its employees happy and healthy? Tell us in the comments below, or submit your story to marketing@hcss.com.

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