Run on: Treadmill desks don't hinder your work

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By Scott Douglas

An increasing amount of research confirms the negative health effects of prolonged sitting, which so many of us do when not running. Studies in this new field of "inactive physiology" have suggested that too much sitting should be considered an independent risk factor for chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Of course, too much sitting is also bad for runners because of the havoc it wreaks on our hips and hamstrings.

The obvious solution, if your work environment allows doing so, is converting your work station to a standing-based rather than sitting-based set-up. The next step, so to speak, is a treadmill desk.

Running and Walking On The Treadmill

One question that has arisen as more people consider walking while working: How will this affect my work? See, for example, this humorous account of a day on a treadmill desk by The Atlantic's health editor.

According to a new study, there's no cause for concern: The work performance of people who worked from a treadmill desk for a year didn't decline once they adjusted to the treadmill desks.

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For the study, published in the journal Obesity, 36 employees volunteered to trade their regular desk for a treadmill desk for one year. Of these employees, 15 were overweight and 11 were obese. Before the treadmill desks were installed, the participants' average time spent walking per day was 70 minutes; that rose to 128 minutes at 6 months, and declined a bit to 109 minutes by the end of the study. Time spent being sedentary fell from 1,020 minutes per day at the start of the study to 929 at 6 months and 978 minutes per day by the end of the study. The workers also lost a modest amount of weight (an average of just more than 3 pounds over the year).

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So the health goal of reducing sedentary time was met. But what about their work?

For the first few months, for those who walked the most at their treadmill desks, "there was a minor loss in workplace performance," as measured by workers' self-assessments and supervisors' evaluations, the researchers wrote. This slight decline is similar to what has been observed in other studies looking at significant changes in work environments, such as markedly different lighting.

Once the workers adjusted to the treadmill desks, not only was that initial slight decline overcome, but by the end of the one-year study, "workplace performance exceeded baseline," the researchers concluded.

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