Photo: Lifespan Fitness

You've tried to lose weight but you have a desk job that keeps you in your chair eight or more hours a day. Lately, you've read about studies suggesting prolonged sitting is as bad for you as smoking.

Outside of a career change, is there anything you can do to reduce your chair time and increase your activity level? You might talk to your boss about installing a treadmill workstation, allowing you to do your work standing on a slow-moving treadmill.

These workstations have been shown to help employees increase their activity level and burn more calories. But on your company's tight budget, how can you convince your supervisor that this workstation is worth the investment?

How the company benefits

You might start by telling them about a new study by researchers from the University of Texas at Arlington, the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota. The researchers suggest that employees who use these workstations not only benefit from improved health but the company benefits from improved productivity.

Desk-bound employees at a financial services company were enlisted for the study. Their workstations were outfitted with a treadmill desk. The surface could be raised or lowered with the touch of a button. Whether the employees worked sitting down or standing up and walking was entirely up to them. However, all were wired with an accelerometer that kept track of their daily calories burned.

At the end of 52 weeks, the employees averaged burning 74 more calories per day than before the workstations were installed. That's all well and good, but is it enough reason for an employer to go to the expense of installing these more treadmill workstations?

Productivity boost

“What’s great about that is that employees who had the treadmill workstations became more productive in addition to becoming more active,” said researcher Darla Hamann, an assistant professor in the UT Arlington School of Urban and Public Affairs. “Walking on the treadmill didn’t come at the expense of being a productive worker. Walking seemed to augment productivity.”

In addition to productivity gains, Hamann says the treadmill desks also improved employee fitness and wellbeing, which she said provides benefits to the company too. She thinks adding the treadmills to the office environment could easily be justified under a corporate wellness program. Employees, she says, might even be more likely to be active when not at work.

“It’s like the treadmill workstation served as a reminder for future physical activity,” Hamann said. “It reinforced the idea to exercise.”

New trend?

An offering

There are already a number of stand-up desks available and they have become more popular in the wake of recent research that suggests spending hours in a chair is bad for your health. Most recently researchers at Kaiser Permanente found prolonged sitting is especially harmful to men, increasing the risk of heart attack.

The men who reported spending several hours a day in sedentary inactivity had 2.2 times the risk of developing heart failure as compared with men who reported high physical activity and low sedentary time.

"Though traditionally we know quite a bit about the positive impact that physical activity has on cardiovascular disease, we know significantly less about the relationship between physical activity and heart failure," said Deborah Rohm Young, PhD, study lead author and researcher at the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research & Evaluation. "The results of this large study of a racially and ethnically diverse population reinforce the importance of a physically active and, importantly, a non-sedentary lifestyle for reducing the risk of heart failure."

The Mayo Clinic was an early advocate of getting employees up and moving around during the workday. We reported back in 2005 that Mayo Clinic was developing an early treadmill desk.

At the time Mayo Clinic predicted a treadmill desk would cost around $1,000. However, we found one on that cost less than $500 (not including treadmill). You might consider showing it, or one like it, to your boss.

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