Can desk treadmills save the health of knowledge workers?

With the world moving toward more desk jobs and obesity rates rising, one possible remedy could be the walk-while-you-work approach.

The U.S. is in the midst of a massive transition to a more knowledge-based economy. That means more people sitting at desks for extended periods every day, and that's one of the factors contributing to a dramatic increase in America's obesity rate in the past 20 years.

There's a new idea for combating this trend: Walking while you work.

The idea is that you have an elevated desk where you can stand rather than sit. Then, instead of just standing, you put a treadmill under your desk and set it to a low speed so that you're continually doing light exercise while you do your daily tasks at the computer.

The company promoting this concept is TrekDesk, which sells its TrekDesk Treadmill Desk for $500, and then you supply the treadmill (which typically costs from $500 to $2500).

Here are a few notes that I gathered while researching this:

  • The U.S. Surgeon General recommends that people walk a minimum of 10,000 steps or 5 miles per day in order to promote a healthy lifestyle; with the walk-while-you-work system, you can get that in about 3 hours
  • If you do that every weekday, you can loose 2-3 pounds per week
  • The height of the TrekDesk is adjustable
  • Most people don't sweat while doing this because you set the treadmill to a low walking speed
  • Walking can also boost cognitive functions, memory, and energy levels, according to some studies
  • There's a history of thinkers who preferred standing desks, including Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, and Ernest Hemingway
  • The TrekDesk is the brainchild of Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic
  • Treadmill desks are already in use at a number of U.S. corporations, including GlaxoSmithKline, Humana, Mutual of Omaha and Best Buy, although they typically use more expensive systems that cost $5000 or more.

The TrekDesk has gotten a lot of publicity from the mainstream media but my favorite explanation and demo is this three-minute video from Daily Grommet:

Sanity check

How many companies in corporate America will be willing to replace cubicles with TrekDesks and treadmills? Probably not many. But, those companies could run an experiment where they set up several shared work spaces with TrekDesks and treadmills where users could bring their laptops and work for a couple hours.

In general, this type of thing could be an interesting development for IT professionals, administrators, and programmers, who are often "chained to the desk" for long periods at a time.

I could also small businesses and professionals who work out of their home offices latching on to this concept even more quickly than corporations.

It may look hokey, but I have to admit that I would love to try it. As I often tell people, I do my best thinking when I'm walking. That's why I tend to put on a headset and pace back and forth in my office when I'm on conference calls. It's also why I try to walk a couple miles in the mornings and evenings whenever possible. That's when I get my best ideas. But, it's hard to make the time to do it consistently, so integrating it into my regular work day could make a lot of sense.

My only question with walking-and-working is how fast I could actually type while strolling on the treadmill. Still, it could be worth the experiment. What do you think? Respond to the poll and jump in the discussion.

Take the poll