Friday, September 13, 2013

The Treadmill Desk, and the Importance of Motion

There was a cool article in the New Yorker earlier this year titled “The Walking Alive” by Susan Orlean.

It was about what appeared to be a small movement in the workplace to ditch the traditional sit-down desk in favor of moving while working.

The centerpiece of the article, the “treadmill desk,” isn’t a piece of heavy-duty cardio equipment. You walk at a pace of only one to two miles an hour, so you shouldn’t be laboring for breath or having trouble typing while at your “walking workstation.”

The first official treadmill desk was introduced by Steelcase, an office furniture company, in 2007. It costs more than $4,000. Other manufacturers include TreadDesk, TrekDesk and Exerpeutic.

Dr. James Levine -- who specializes in “inactivity studies” -- helped design the original Steelcase model. Levine, the article tells us, began thinking about walking back in 1999, after he did a study at the Mayo Clinic.

The study looked at why some people gained weight while others didn’t, even when they ate the same amount (and presumably “exercised” the same amount too). The subjects were observed with what Levine refers to as “an atrocious amount of detail.”

A curious finding was made. The non-weight gainers did move more than the others, though in subtle ways. They fidgeted, jiggled their legs, paced, stood on the balls of their feet. All this quiet restlessness burned as much as 800 calories a day!

So the treadmill desk puts sedentary office workers into motion. Why that matters is beautifully captured in this passage about the harmful effects of sitting a lot.
Sitting puts muscles into a sort of hibernation, cutting off their electrical activity and shutting down the production of lipoprotein lipase, the enzyme that breaks down fat molecules in the blood. Your metabolic rate drops to about one calorie a minute -- just slightly higher than if you were dead. Sitting for more than two hours causes the presence of good cholesterol to drop, and, in time, insulin effectiveness plummets. This can lead to cardiovascular problems, certain kinds of cancer, depression, deep-vein thrombosis, and type-2 diabetes.
I like the idea of the treadmill desk, partly because it’s easy motion. Easy motion, small steps, light loads on the joints -- all seem smart to me.

Now, is a treadmill desk a good idea if you have chronic knee pain?

Maybe, but I’m guessing probably not.

The desk may be a good idea to prevent chronic knee pain, but when you already have it, too much movement can overwhelm tender joints. I recall my own experience in Hong Kong when I realized that motion was critical to healing bad knee joints. I tried moving pretty much nonstop: shuffling along, walking for hours. And my knees got worse.

Still, I really like the idea of the treadmill desk. Get off your butt. Start moving. And meanwhile, get all the desk work done that you need to.

What’s not to like? And if the price tag is too daunting, the New Yorker tells us that a number of Web sites offer instructions on building your own model, using an ordinary treadmill and IKEA components or even milk crates and doors.


  1. LOlzzz My younger sister also copies me just like this type of activities. She use to keep breaks under her table when i use my desk Buddy believe me standing desk have no just three benefits but numerous. MY backbone pain, my bulkiness, the assertiveness, laziness and many many others. Ultimately i saved some money from my salary and bought from TESCO and Amazon were also offering very attractive variety but without free shipment. Health is all of the prime concern, never compromise with your health at least.Stay healthy

  2. I just read your article and found it very informative for those who are looking to buy treadmill desks. Well, there are many different factors to consider while buying the best one. If you are looking to buy the best one then it is recommended to check this list of treadmill desks. I bet you will find the best one for your needs.