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Health-Chair Reform: Walk, Don't Sit At Your Desk

Treadmills desks can be built at home as long as you have a treadmill.
Sharyn Morrow
Wikimedia Commons via Flickr
Treadmills desks can be built at home as long as you have a treadmill.

Most Americans have their behinds glued to a chair for a good eight hours a day. Or more. Our expanding waistlines, sluggish metabolisms, and hunched shoulders are ready evidence of where we spend our time, as NPR's Patti Neighmond reported on Morning Edition this week.

But a backlash is brewing to the ossified desk setup. And the treadmill desk is gaining a particularly loyal following complete with an active social networking community for those who've eschewed the chair. Some companies have installed treadmill desks for their employees: SALO, a Minneapolis human resources company, has 10 walking workstations throughout the office. Health care giant Humana has done the same.

And Shots learned that a Norfolk, Virginia real estate company is considering a similar move, inspired by senior vice president Tom Johnson, 41, who recently installed one in his office after reading about the health benefits on the Internet.

Johnson, like many treadmill desk converts, says that his chair didn't just restrict his natural inclination to move all day – it also made him less creative and productive. "It's almost like sitting in a chair mentally dumbs me down," Johnson told Shots. "And when I get up I'm bent over like a crooked stick."

So he bought a Steelcase Walkstation, developed by Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic and the original advocate of walking while working. Levine's research has shown that walking on a treadmill desk at just 1 mph will burn an additional 100 to 150 calories an hour.

Now Johnson is on the treadmill most of the day walking at 1.2 mph. "That's what's comfortable to me to email or phone; it's much slower than I would normally walk," Johnson says.

Treadmill desks can be made at home, too, like the one David Goldenberg, 31, built in his office in Brooklyn, New York. Goldenberg found a used treadmill on Craigslist for a couple hundred dollars and then built a small platform over it for his computer with plywood, Styrofoam and glue.

Like Johnson, Goldenberg says walking all day at a slow pace (.8 mph) gave him more energy. "You don't get that sleepy feeling at 2:30 anymore," says Goldenberg. "If anything it made me more likely to want to exercise after work because I wasn't so exhausted from sitting all day."

Any downsides to the treadmill desk? Well, yes. Johnson says he sometimes likes to show his secretary something on his screen and that's troublesome since the monitor is now much higher up. Goldenberg works with graphics, which requires some hand-eye coordination. That, it turns out, is hard to do while walking. Indeed, one of Levine's studies found that walking can take a toll on "mouse performance."

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