Treadmill desks are one of those products that so well reflect the problems in our culture that their existence is almost a parody. Yet they are real things that exist and some people swear by them.
There is indeed evidence that treadmill desks can boost health and even our productivity and focus at work (see: “Treadmill Desks Aren’t Just Healthier, They’ll Also Boost Your Work Performance”). But, as a new study shows, those benefits may not be all they’re cut out to be. Further, they may not be worth the cost and difficulty of getting treadmill desks set up in the first place.
The study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and funded by the insurer Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, looked at how about 20 overweight and obese office workers at the company used treadmill desks over a period of 12 weeks. While the workers did increase their average number of daily steps by more than 1,000 steps, they didn’t lose any significant weight and only used the desks about half the time they were asked. On average, they spent 45 minutes a day on the machines.
One problem was that they had to walk at a pretty slow pace–1.8 miles per hour–in order to work and walk at the same time. The pace was not fast enough to get the benefits of “moderate to vigorous” physical activity set by public health guidelines. The lead author of the study, John M. Schuna, Jr, a researcher at Oregon State University, says that while there may be small benefits of walking leisurely while you work, counteracting the effects of a sedentary lifestyle to affect health would require more.
Further in favor of the “not worth the hassle” point of view on treadmill desks, it’s telling that the researchers even had trouble recruiting people for the study. Only 10% of 700 employees eligible for the study were interested in participating. Those that did couldn’t use the treadmill desks as often as they were supposed to, because their jobs that day made it difficult or they had trouble scheduling time (since several workers shared the same treadmill desk, something that would likely happen in a regular office setting because the desks are expensive).
All in all, Schuna says that there needs to be some way to increase exercise activity in the workplace. But treadmill desks may not be worth the cost and attention.