Interested in investing in one of those treadmill desks, which let their users tackle their work while strolling along?
It might be worth it, says an Oregon State University researcher, especially for sedentary workers who don’t get much other exercise.
But John M. Schuna Jr., an assistant professor of exercise and sports science in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University, offers some cautions: At speeds ranging from 1 to 2 mph, they shouldn’t be considered a substitute for the type of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity that experts advise.
And implementing the installation of the desks and similar exercise equipment in the workplace can pose challenges for employers, said Schuna, who was part of a study into the treadmill desks that recently was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
The treadmill desks (and similar devices, such as desks that allow users to pedal as if they were on a stationary bicycle while at work) are meant as ways for increasingly sedentary workers to get at least some exercise during the workday.
“Something is always better than nothing,” Schauna said.
Schauna and his fellow researchers organized a small study involving overweight and obese employees at a private health insurance company. The workers were encouraged to take advantage of the treadmill desks twice a day for 45 minutes each session.
The idea was to run the treadmills at about 2 mph, not enough for the workers to be so out of breath that they couldn’t perform their jobs. As it turned out, the average speed used by the workers was about 1.8 mph, Schauna said.
But the workers only used the treadmill desks for about half the recommended time, he said: “They averaged a little over one session a day for approximately 45 minutes or so per session. It’s about half of what we initially wanted them to do.”
A number of factors helped explain the reduced use, Schauna said. For starters, the workers had to share the treadmill desks, which the researchers thought was a better representation of how companies likely would bring in the units, considering their cost – which can range from $750 a pop to about $2,000.
The sharing proved to be a problem, Schauna said. In some cases, workers ran into conflicts with work schedules. In addition, he said, “there were times when workers were literally unable to leave their own desks for a four-hour period, because they had to be there for the call center.”
The researchers did not notice any significant weight loss or changes in body mass index during the 12-week study, but Schauna noted that was not a primary goal of the study. He added that, properly used, the devices could be useful as a way to prevent weight gain.
Installing treadmill desks throughout a workplace does present some challenges for employers, he said.
In addition to the cost, widespread use of treadmill desks could force businesses to rethink the layout of offices – and might trigger some unforeseen liability issues, he said. “What happens if someone falls?”
“Being realistic,” he said, “it’s not going to work for a lot of workplaces.”
But he does think that the trend has gained some traction.
“I think you’re going to see more and more people using them,” Schuna said, but he added: “The adoption rate is not going to be massive. I think we would be fooling ourselves if we thought that everyone was going to start installing these things in every office building in the country.”