The Debate Over Treadmill Desks Rumbles On…

Treadmill desk - don't try this in heels!
Treadmill desk - don't try this in heels!

Office workers go to work and sit in an office, all day, every day. We sit during the commute, in meetings, at lunch, at home.

We know all that sitting is bad for the health. But are there any real alternatives?

Not so long ago we delved into the topic of upright desks, and how they can help office workers to stretch their legs a little more during the working day. Upright desks are particularly beneficial when the height can be altered, as this allows workers to mix up their office routine by sitting or standing as it suits them.

OT’s very own Sue Saldibar has a standing desk, and swears by it. “My husband converted his old drafting table and now I stand about 35-50% of the day,” she said. “Ideal would be an ergonomically designed standing desk and I’m sure I’ll get one eventually. Here’s an idea – business center operators should not only provide standing desks; but how about a standing-desk exercise class!”

Walking and working

Another variation of the standing desk is the treadmill workstation. It’s effectively an upright desk with a treadmill underneath, and the idea is that you walk while you work. Business centres could really bring something new to their workspaces with a contraption like this. So why don’t we see more of them?

I’ve read plenty of accounts of treadmill desks from people who have tried them. Some, such as Business Insider’s Alyson Shontell, decided to take on something of a marathon. She marched for 15 miles during her working day and, while she burned hundreds of calories, she was “bone tired” by the end.

Is this the way to do it? Probably not. A treadmill desk is still a desk, designed to help you work. Too much pounding on a treadmill can’t be good for concentration, as Alyson discovered.

At the other end of the spectrum is journalist Danny Sullivan, who is a complete ‘walk and work’ convert. He has built an entire office around his treadmill and walks 4 – 7 hours per day, burning hundreds of calories while he’s at it. It’s now business as usual for Danny, who loves his treadmill desk and feels “weird” when he’s not walking.

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The experience

Whether or not you think treadmill desks are a little ridiculous, or whether you think it’s an idea with… legs, when Rio Designs arrived at last month’s BCA Conference with a treadmill in tow I had to try it.

My main concern was, how do you keep walking whilst working on a laptop? Regardless of the pace, I couldn’t imagine how constant movement would be conducive to typing, or reading.

I managed to walk and work – although it definitely takes some getting used to. My main problem was multitasking, as the movement and balance required concentration, which means giving less attention to the task in hand.

I’m not alone. Mat Honer from Wired tried one. He said: “If I need to do anything requiring concentrated attention and focus, I must stop walking. I can reply to emails and make calls and do lots of quick hit tasks, but when I really need to dive in, walking is a distraction.”

Like all things in life, there’s no one size fits all solution. There are pros and cons. As one of many millions of workers who spends a lot of time sitting, I enjoyed the rhythm and motion of using a treadmill desk. I’m confident it just takes a little getting used to. After all, I spent about 5 minutes on it so it can hardly be called a fair trial (plus I was wearing heels… not a good combo).

Regardless, there’s no denying the health benefits of a treadmill desk, and all that blood circulation and oxygen to the brain can help to boost creativity and productivity too. The question is, will treadmill desks ever truly become part of the furniture, so to speak? Or will workspace operators simply choose to sit this one out?

Image: Thanks to the BCA and Adrian Pope