Treadmills at the office – good or bad?

Lately I’ve been seeing many articles about people who have stopped using their office desk when working at the computer.  But instead of a standing workstation, these people have gone one step – or many steps further – by using a treadmill while working.  Ergonomically speaking, is this good?  Let’s look at a few pros and cons:

Pros:

  1. Sitting more than four hours a day can decrease life expectancy by 48% (Screen-Based Entertainment Time, All-Cause Mortality, and Cardiovascular Events; Emmanuel Stamatakis, PhD, MSc, BSc, Mark Hamer, PhD, MSc, BSc, andDavid W. Dunstan, PhD, BAppSc, Journal of the American College of Cardiology; http://content.onlinejacc.org/cgi/content/full/57/3/292?maxtoshow=&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=screen+time&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&resourcetype=HWCIT)
  2. Activity is better than rest for acute low back pain (Evaluation and Treatment of Acute Low Back Pain; SCOTT KINKADE, M.D., M.S.P.H., University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Dallas, Texas; http://journals.dev.aafp.org/XML-journal-files/afp/2007/0415/afp20070415p1181.pdf)
  3. Sustained activity during the day burns more calories (The energy expenditure of using a “walk-and-work” desk for office workers with obesity; James A Levine, Jennifer M Miller, Endocrine Research Unit, Mayo Clinic and Mayo Foundation, Rochester, Minnesota, USA; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2465387/?tool=pmcentrez)

 

Cons:

  1. Computer task performance is lower when walking and slightly lower when cycling, compared with chair sitting (The Effects of Walking and Cycling Computer Workstations on Keyboard and Mouse Performance; Leon Straker, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Australia; James Levine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota; Amity Campbell, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Australia; http://hfs.sagepub.com/content/51/6/831.short)
  2. Compared with sitting, treadmill walking caused a 6% to 11% decrease in measures of fine motor skills and math problem solving, but did not affect selective attention and processing speed or reading comprehension (Effect of using a treadmill workstation on performance of simulated office work tasks: John D, Bassett D, Thompson D, Fairbrother D, Baldwin D; Dept of Exercise, Sport, and Leisure Studies, University of Tennessee, Knoxille, USA; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19953838)
  3. Productivity may lower.  In a study with transcriptionists, it was found the speed of transcription lowered by 16% while walking on a treadmill (Productivity of transcriptionists using a treadmill desk; Warren G. Thompson, James A. Levine; Department of Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, USA; http://iospress.metapress.com/content/p336717854509745/)

 

Personally I am reluctant to recommend a treadmill desk.  This is primarily because of balance and safety reasons, but also due to the possibility that cognition and productivity are affected.  But the research is conflicting and more studies need to be done, especially with regards to complex tasks and problem solving.  I certainly can’t ignore the fact that more physical activity during the day improves health.  For this reason alone, it is important to keep evaluating the treadmill desk as a viable option for the future.

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