In the past few years, treadmill desks have gained traction across Seattle.
Some people go for a walk when they need to clear their mind or come up with ideas. John Knapp just starts walking at his desk.
“I just hit ‘start’ and I’m off to the races, at about 1.5 miles an hour, which I’ve discovered is the top speed I can go and still type,” says Knapp of his treadmill desk.
In the past few years, treadmill desks have gained traction across Seattle, with the potential to change the office landscape from a row of sedentary workers stuck sitting in chairs into something that can look more like a gym.
It’s hard not to notice Knapp, a 6-foot-3 attorney, when he’s perched 4 inches higher on his treadmill-desk platform. “I’m up in basketball territory when I’m using it,” says Knapp, a partner at law firm Miller Nash Seattle.
He also appreciates that reactions from his colleagues and clients have been positive.
“They light up when talking about the treadmill desk,” he says.
Knapp began to explore the idea for his workplace after his doctor suggested he find a way to be more active to combat symptoms of Type I diabetes. Since he started using the desk two years ago, his condition has improved and his levels are now in the range the doctor wanted to see, he says.
Prolonged sitting isn’t good for us. Based on “sitting disease” research, the American Medical Association adopted a policy this year encouraging workplaces to allow options for employees that do not involve sitting all day long, including standing workstations and isometric balls.
There’s strong anecdotal evidence that using treadmill desks for at least some of the day can result in more energetic and focused behavior, says Larry Swanson, a Seattle-based workplace massage therapist who specializes in office fitness. He started researching and recommending treadmill desks years ago, when he noticed the same physical complaints over and over from clients who sat all day at their office jobs.
“When you sit down, you turn off a bunch of metabolic functions, but walking turns on the floodlights,” says Swanson. He has seen an improvement in many of his clients who have decided to try the new workstations.
The typical treadmill-desk user is in his or her 40s, is health-conscious and may have difficulty fitting in gym time, according to Ron Wiener, owner of WorkWhileWalking, a treadmill-desk store in Bellevue. Although finding enough space — many users have a second desk for working while seated — and getting permission from an employer could be potential hurdles, Wiener says that he’s a good example of the health benefits. He found that after two months of using a treadmill desk, his blood pressure decreased and he started going to the gym again.
We’re just at the beginning of the treadmill-desk trend, Wiener adds: “It’s kind of like buying an airplane back in 1921.”
Tips for walking while working
Wear good shoes. Trade work shoes for a pair of sneakers when it’s time to walk.
Work up to it. Don’t walk all day; start with 30 minutes per day to build up muscles.
Don’t sweat. If you do, you’re doing it wrong. Anything faster than 2 miles per hour affects keyboarding accuracy.
Take breaks. When someone comes to the office to speak with you, consider hopping off the treadmill.
Divide and conquer. Treadmill desks may not work for every job or task. Keep a to-do list for the treadmill and another for sitting or standing.