Treadmill desks have increased in popularity and have been center stage in the health-conscious working world. It seems like all that walking would be the perfect solution to “Sitting Disease” and the obesity epidemic. And while the health benefits of walking extra hours throughout the day are undeniable, the question of whether or not these desks are beneficial in the workplace still remains.
Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have been known to hold walking meetings to inspire new ideas from their team members. Is there anything behind this idea? A new study completed at Stanford University seems to prove it true. The study found that walking in general increases a person’s capacity for creative thought. They discovered that creativity increased up to 60% while people were walking versus sitting. It did not matter whether the study participant was walking outside or on a treadmill in a small, boring room; the results for the creative increase were brought on by the act of walking itself, not the environment where I t takes place.
While walking had a significant impact on cognitive brainstorming, it did not positively affect the thought process necessary to choose single, correct answers. In the Stanford study, participants were given simple word association problems that are commonly used to measure focused thinking. Those who answered while walking performed mildly worse than those who answered while sitting. It is possible that these findings suggest that treadmill desks are appropriate and beneficial for certain tasks but can be detrimental to others.
An inquiry surrounding the treadmill desks is whether or not they increase workplace productivity. A study done at the Mayo Clinic found that typing speed and accuracy decreased up to 16% for people who were walking while they worked. It also decreased their fine motor skills and math problem-solving skills by as much as 11%. The treadmills can also be loud and distract the people working around the person walking. They’re also quite large and could be a hindrance for smaller offices.
Another study done in Oakdale, Minnesota was conducted on 36 sedentary employees who were able to switch from sitting to a walking desk at their choosing. The employees were evaluated at 6 and 12 month intervals. All participants showed an increase in daily activity, and some reported an increase in overall health and weight loss. The study reported a decrease in productivity for the first 3-5 months people used the desks, but an increase in productivity for the months thereafter. This suggests that treadmill desks have a “ramp-up” period where the walker learns to master walking and working simultaneously.
There are several personal accounts that treadmill desks increase focus because they eradicate people’s feelings of restlessness and helped them concentrate on the task at hand. One woman reported that her favorite time to walk on her treadmill desk was in the early afternoon after she ate, because it kept her energized and she no longer felt the early afternoon slump that plagues so many desk workers. Many people reported having a good tired feeling after a day of walking, but emphasized that new users should ease into the amount of walking to avoid soreness and pain.
Walking several hours throughout your day, even at 1 mph, has been proven to have substantial health benefits, like increasing your metabolic rate, burning additional calories, and improving blood sugar levels. However, one CEO who spends about 80% of his time working on his treadmill desk reported that due to an enhanced metabolism his appetite increased drastically, causing him to gain six pounds and making him the joke of his office. There are exceptions to every rule!
So, are treadmill desks truly beneficial? The reports are mixed, and it really depends on the individual, the task, and how often the desk is used. If you’re thinking about investing in a treadmill desk the best thing you can do is know yourself. Try bringing a book to the gym with you and reading it while you walk. Can you focus?
Remember, the point of the treadmill desk is to increase your fitness as well as your focus. If you find yourself being distracted by the movement, another great option is a standing desk. The caloric burn is less than a treadmill desk, but it still engages several muscle groups that are inactive while sitting. The most important thing is to get off your bum and lead a more active, healthier life!