Treadmill desks are designed to allow us to incorporate standing and walking into our day with the goal of reducing the ill effects caused by sitting for long periods of time. Treadmill desks pair standing office desks with a treadmill base to allow you to work… while walking.
Treadmill desks are available in different styles. There are desks that are designed to fit over a traditional treadmill, some that are specifically made for use with a treadmill, and there are also treadmills that are simply designed to fit under traditional standing desks.
When were treadmill desks invented?
The idea of a treadmill desk was first proposed by inventor Nathan Edelson in the 1980s. Edelson published the first peer reviewed articles regarding the furniture and patented a lightweight, portable version of a desk for use with a treadmill in 1993. Another treadmill desk was designed in 1996 by a UC Berkeley psychology professor, Dr. Seth Roberts.
While several people had the same idea in mind, the credit for being the actual inventor of the treadmill desk goes to Dr. James Levine, a medical doctor and obesity researcher at the Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University. Levine came up with the concept as a part of his work with non-exercise activity heat production in organisms. He actually constructed his treadmill desk by placing a bedside hospital tray over a $400 treadmill. In this video from the PBS series “The Secret Life of Scientists & Engineers”, Levine explains what led to his invention and how it even helped him overcome a sedentary lifestyle:
The idea of the treadmill desk then became popular the in UK after Roger Highfield, a science journalist and director of external affairs for a collection of British museums, tested a treadmill desk for several months in 2006 under the supervision of Levine.
How do I use a treadmill desk?
It is recommended that you use a treadmill at a speed less than 2 miles an hour while working and, as with any other change in your routine, you want to gradually ease into it. Levine says “there’s a tendency to want to jump on the treadmill and walk for hours and hours a day. Don’t do that. Certainly, at the absolute maximum, do half-hour on, half an hour off, for two to three hours a day.” It may also take a while to adjust to writing or typing while on the treadmill desk, so you may want to start out with easier tasks such as reading email and surfing the internet for a bit until you become a little more accustomed to your new way of working. Talking on the telephone may also be a bit difficult because using the treadmill will change your breathing rate and also because of the sound of the treadmill, itself.
You also want to make sure that your treadmill desk is ergonomically sound, just like any other standing desk work space so you reap all of its benefits and not cause health concerns from working improperly. There are also typically safety features in place to keep you safe while using a treadmill desk, such as safety keys or safety stop devices that pause the treadmill after a certain amount of inactivity.
What are the health benefits?
A study by Dr. Levine found that treadmill desk users can burn an estimated 100 to 130 calories per hour, when walking at speeds slower than 2 miles per hour. Beyond weight loss, there are numerous other beneficial effects of adding more movement into your workday, such as lowering blood pressure, lowering blood sugar, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and even reducing the risk of developing cancer. These health concerns are coined “sitting disease” in relation to the fact that research shows 50 to 70 percent of people spend six or more hours sitting every day. Activities that increase circulation have also been found to prevent osteoporosis, diabetes and vascular disease. Adding more movement into your day may help you boost concentration and productivity, too.
Who uses them today?
NBC weatherman Al Roker lost more than 100 pounds (and 20 suit sizes!) after undergoing gastric bypass surgery more than a decade ago. He says the real challenge isn’t losing the weight, it’s keeping it off. To do this, he rides his bike 2 miles to work every day (at 4:30 in the morning) and uses a treadmill desk while in the office.
During a TV Guide interview, late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel showed off a new treadmill with a large tabletop in his office. This allows him to walk… while he works. Kimmel told the interviewer “I read somewhere that sitting all day can cut 15 or 20 years off your life. It’s worse than smoking. We weren’t meant to sit this much.”
Victoria Beckham, known for her time as a member of the group The Spice Girls, and now as a fashion designer, has apparently fallen in love with treadmill desks. Beckham had the chance to try out a treadmill desk (even while wearing 5-inch stilettos!) and raved about it on her Twitter account: “Every office should have one of these, work out and work at the same time!! Genius!!” she wrote.
Dairy Queen, Inc.
Workers at the Dairy Queen, Inc. corporate offices near Minneapolis use treadmill desks. The treadmills were placed in a conference room on the ground floor for employees to use and also to act as a recruitment tool to attract future workers. While some employees said they didn’t have time to go down and use the treadmill desks, others jumped at the opportunity. One employee said, “You can really accomplish a lot of work at the same time as walking, and it really helps you get through those more tedious tasks.”
If you have been looking for a new way to incorporate more exercise into your day, then you may be the next person to add their name to the long list of treadmill desk users. I mean, the surgeon general recommends a minimum of 10,000 steps a day… so why not get them while working!
Have you used a treadmill desk or do you know somebody who does? Is there anything holding you back from trying out a treadmill desk? Share your comments and/or concerns with us below!