A treadmill desk is a great way to stay healthy while working at a desk. Studies have proven that treadmill desks improve productivity and focus and decrease the release of cortisol which is related to stress and chronic disease. But, some tasks actually showed less accuracy and precision when using a treadmill desk. Since using a treadmill desk discourages long periods of sitting, your risks for chronic illness related to living a sedentary lifestyle may be improved.
This article discusses the research behind the health benefits of treadmill desks and what it is, exactly.
Health Benefits of a Treadmill Desk
A treadmill desks main focus is to reduce the amount of time spent sedentary while sitting at a desk during the work day. Studies have shown that getting up and walking, even slowly, during the workday reduces cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is associated with fight or flight when a human is feeling stress, either real or perceived.
When cortisol is released, a chain reaction happens in the body that increases oxidative stress and creates sustained activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. This process can lead to chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stroke, and obesity.
A treadmill desk can help counteract the effects of cortisol by increasing physical activity. Physical activity has been proven to reduce the release and counteract the effects of cortisol.
What Is A Treadmill Desk?
A treadmill desk is a uniquely designed piece of exercise equipment that allows workers to walk while using a desk. They are typically used to reduce the amount of time spent sitting at a desk while working on a computer which has been linked to improved overall health and a reduction in chronic diseases.
Treadmill desks were the brainchild of Nathan Edelson, who proposed the concept of such a desk way back in the 1980s patenting prototypes in the 1990s. The idea was subsequently revisited by US and British doctors James Levine and Roger Highfield, who advocated the health benefits of using treadmill desks, particularly their ability to increase user metabolism above the basal metabolic rate (the ‘standby mode’ of our metabolism).
Initial designs focused on a height-adjustable desk that could be placed over a regular treadmill. Later designs refined the concept with the production of fully integrated units where a purpose-built treadmill was created to fit under desks.
For the last decade, Fortune 500 companies like Hyatt, Google, and Evernote have been encouraging employees to use treadmill desks.
Are Treadmill Desks A Good Idea?
These desks don’t come cheap. You should expect to pay anything between $800 and $1800 for a high-quality workstation with a treadmill. With this kind of investment, you want to be sure that you will be reaping authentic benefits from your purchase, so let’s take a look at the evidence to see if treadmill desks really work.
The great thing is that the question can be answered by medical research that has been undertaken to address the health benefits of using a treadmill desk as a solution to target sedentary living. Let’s take a look at some helpful studies that have been published in recent years.
Scientific Research About Treadmill Desks
The health benefits of treadmill desks has been proven in multiple studies. But one study found that the ability to perform tasks that require speed and accuracy may not be performed as well when using a treadmill desk.
Supportive Research For Treadmill Desks
The Journal of Preventative Medicine published a comprehensive review of current publications looking at the physiological and psychological outcomes for office workers who used both treadmill and standing desks.
They concluded that treadmill desks had distinctive physiological effects on both physical and psychological wellbeing including:
- Improved blood glucose levels after eating
- Beneficial changes in blood levels of High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and overall cholesterol
- Skeletal, postural and ergonomic benefits were also found
However, their results showed that psychological well-being was mixed and there was little overall improvement in productivity.
Computers in Human Behavior in 2015 looked at whether there was any long term or delayed effect of treadmill desk use on memory. Participants in the study were invited by researchers to either sit down or use a treadmill desk to complete tasks like reading or sending a text.
Following the use of either text, participants then had to complete a number of tasks that tested memory and attention. The neurophysiological activity was measured using EEG.
They concluded that the use of a treadmill desk was associated with:
- Short-term increase in memory and attention
- The odds of answering a question correctly were 34.9% higher
- Perceived ability to stay on task was improved
Unsupportive Research for Treadmill Desks
For certain jobs, walking may actually make accuracy and speed more difficult.
The Mayo Clinic and published in 2011 looked at work productivity levels among 11 medical transcriptionists, while using treadmill desks. Participants underwent training for 4 hours prior to using a treadmill desk while completing transcription tasks. The speed and accuracy of completed transcription work were measured along with calories burned.
They concluded that the use of a treadmill desk:
- Burned up to 100 calories per hour
- Completed tasks accurately
- Speed of transcription fell 16% which was attributed to a short training period
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The idea of burning calories while still getting your workday completed is a tempting offer and clearly anything that increases much needed physical activity is positive. The treadmill desk appears to tick all the boxes and has been demonstrated in multiple studies to burn calories, improve cholesterol levels, and shift excess weight.
These benefits certainly make a treadmill desk a great choice for an escapist backyard office and will certainly help break up your day. However, for some people, using an active workstation like a treadmill desk will take some getting used to and for most, a sitting desk will still need to be on standby.
If you’re looking for a place to work from home, get some ideas here.