As research continues to warn us about the health risks of our sedentary lifestyles and the COVID pandemic has us working from home, we are coming up with more ways to reduce the time we spend seated, even at our desk jobs. We are trying standing desks, kneeling desks, exercise balls for more-active sitting, and even treadmill desks that allow us to walk as we do our work.
If you are able to focus and complete your tasks at a gentle walking pace, a treadmill desk might sound like a great alternative to 40 hours or more per week in a chair. And for the most part, it is. Walking throughout the workday burns calories, improves circulation, and combats the skeletal and joint complications associated with sitting for long periods.
These are important benefits to our health and wellness, but what about productivity? Are we as focused when we are upright and walking as when we’re seated and still? As treadmill desks are showing up in more offices, researchers are beginning to question their impact on what really needs to happen in the workplace: work.
When researchers with Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, compared productivity between study participants who walked slowly on a treadmill with others who were seated, they found that participants who walked did not perform quite as well. The differences weren’t huge, but there was a slight decline in attention, learning, memory, and typing when participants walked.
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It still may be worthwhile to walk while you work, however. Because the performance difference between walkers and sitters was modest, the researchers said that the benefits of staying in motion during the workday might outweigh any minor dips in productivity.
If you do use a treadmill desk, you might be able to enjoy its health and wellness benefits while still staying on top of your job. Consider which tasks you can effectively perform while you walk and which ones require the sharper focus associated with sitting. Answering emails and routine phone calls, for example, might be a great opportunity to get up and walk, whereas you may want to take a seat for complex reports and finalizing important projects.
Larson MJ, LeCheminant JD, Hill K, Carbine K, Masterson T, Christenson E. Cognitive and typing outcomes measured simultaneously with slow treadmill walking or sitting: Implications for treadmill desks. PLoS One. 2015;10(4):e0121309. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0121309.