We spend a lot of time sitting—a lot. In fact, a recent survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
, knowledge workers (i.e. jobs that require a computer and desk) spend about 87 percent of their days sitting. Most of us know this is harmful to our health
—but to what extent?
suggests that habitual sedentary behaviors can increase your risk of blood clots, muscle tension, chronic pain, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity or cardiovascular problems.
The bottom line is that the human body is not built for inactivity. It needs consistent exercise and movement, even while you’re working. And that’s where a treadmill desk comes in.
What is a treadmill desk?
A treadmill desk is a height-adjustable vertical desk that’s attached to a small treadmill beneath the workstation. This convenient design allows you to walk on a treadmill while typing out an email, answering a Zoom call, or finalizing a client presentation, making it easier to prioritize movement during the workday.
Investing in a treadmill desk can be a smart productivity booster as well since you won’t have to pause in the middle of a task to periodically stretch your legs. Rather, you can get your step count in and
finish all your project deliverables without breaking stride.
But is a treadmill desk actually worth the price? Most brands start retailing for $300 on the low end. Better yet, can you concentrate on both work and exercise simultaneously? Is it a practical solution for office ergonomics or a distraction from the job? These are reasonable questions and here are some answers.
What are the benefits of treadmill desk?
A treadmill desk is beneficial and, based on the benefits, most would agree it's also worth the investment. Here are three of the main ways in which using a treadmill desk can enhance both physical wellness and cognitive function
when working in a sedentary environment.
1. Counteract the health risks of frequent sitting.
Light-intensity exercises, such as walking, are particularly effective in counteracting the effects of sedentary behavior, the BMC Public Health Journal
reports. According to the same journal, employees who use treadmill desks exhibit more energy and experience a boost in cardio health and metabolic function.
These results imply that using a treadmill desk consistently could help you avoid or manage health issues like high cholesterol, hypertension, prediabetes or unhealthy weight.
2. Relieve chronic pain and restore posture alignment.
It’s no secret that being in a seated position for long periods of time can cause joint stiffness, muscle tension, and postural misalignment. If you experience chronic discomfort, pressure, or soreness in your neck, shoulders, spine, glutes, hips, wrists, or knees due to sitting all day on the job, a treadmill desk may be just what you need to improve your ergonomics.
A recent study in the Orthopedics and Biomechanics Journal
found that when you interrupt habitual sitting with at least two hours of low-impact walking on a treadmill desk, you’ll achieve a variety of neuromuscular benefits. These include more postural stability and alignment, relief from joint and muscle pain, increased balance and motor skills and less compression on the spine. Gentle movement can do absolute wonders for chronic pain.
3. Support executive brain functions.
There’s some debate about whether or not using a treadmill desk has the potential to distract you from work. While certain research points to multi-tasking activities as detrimental to cognitive performance, another study in the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise Journal
reveals that walking on the job will not impair executive functions.
Incorporating movement into the workday can lower stress and bolster energy levels without compromising the executive brain functions you need to maintain productivity, this journal continues. The key is to choose a light-intensity walking speed, as too vigorous of a pace will cause you to focus on the exercise more than the project at hand.
While you might want to save the high-priority tasks that require deep concentration for when you’re not in motion, busy work, like emails, data entry, research, Zoom meetings, etc. are perfect for your walking time.
How do you use a treadmill desk?
A treadmill desk might seem effortless to use in theory—after all, how hard can it be just to start walking? Using a treadmill desk, however, requires a certain degree of spatial awareness and coordination, so you won’t lose balance.
Here are a few tips to remember if you plan to use a treadmill desk in the office or at home:
- Position your treadmill desk on a flat, stable, even surface, then double-check that all structural components are secure. Is the workstation firmly attached to the treadmill? Is the desktop level, so your computer won’t slide off? Is the height comfortable, so you don’t have to work hunched over?
- Choose a gentle, safe, low-impact walking speed that won’t exert you too much, pull attention away from the project you’re working on, or put you at risk of falling. The optimal speed to maintain is between 1 and 2 mph. The idea is not to break a sweat, but to just move slowly and steadily.
- Gradually increase the amount of time you use the treadmill desk. It can take a while to acclimate to not sitting while you work. Start with two or three 15 to 20-minute intervals of using the treadmill desk over the course of a workday, then after a few weeks, aim for two or three 30-minute intervals. Continue to expand the overall length of time as you feel comfortable every few weeks.
Whether you’re in the process of breaking sedentary habits
or just want to stretch your legs more often, a treadmill desk can help. It improves office ergonomics, counteracts the adverse health effects of sitting, and enhances both your mental and physical fitness. If you can swing the upfront costs, this is a smart investment for work and wellness.