January 22, 2018
Walking While You Work

Walking While You Work

by Berkeley Wellness  

Prolonged sitting has many adverse effects, especially on blood vessel function, choles­terol, triglycerides, and blood sugar; it may even increase the risk of premature death. Enter treadmill desks as part of the solution—at least for “desk potatoes” (that is, people who sit at their desks for much of the day). These unconventional desks allow users to walk while they work. Some offices are even install­ing them in hopes of improving employees’ health and productivity.

But here’s the hitch: Treadmill desks may impair performance on certain tasks, accord­ing to a study in PLOS ONE. Researchers from Brigham Young University randomly assigned 75 people to work at a computer while either sitting in a chair or walking slowly on a treadmill and then had them perform a series of tests that required both motor skills (typing words that flashed on the computer screen) and mental skills (remembering words and adding numbers).

The treadmill group typed more slowly and made more mistakes—not surprising considering the constant movement of the treadmill. Less anticipated was the finding that though performance generally remained in the average range, the treadmill group did worse on the cognitive tasks, indicating declines in attention, learning, processing speed, and certain aspects of memory.

Because the study included only young people (between ages 18 and 35), it’s not known what effects treadmill desks might have on the cognitive function­ing of older people. It’s also not known what happens over time—perhaps performance improves with practice.

Bottom line: If you’ve already invested in a treadmill desk or plan to, be aware that it may throw off your work at least a lit­tle—which may or may not matter, depend­ing on the type of work you are doing. For instance, it may be easier to do tasks such as talking on the phone or reviewing papers while on a treadmill. And you may adapt over time. When your work requires extended typ­ing or more serious concentration, however, consider standing still or going back to your old desk chair. Just be sure then to get up and move at least every hour; studies are now showing that some of the adverse effects of prolonged sitting can be reversed by taking active breaks. Keep in mind also that as with most home gym equipment, many people stop using their treadmill desks after a short time.