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Do Treadmill Desks Really Work? Here’s The Truth!

Planning a garden office or backyard workspace is definitely an opportunity to rethink your lifestyle, and there are probably only a few of us who could not do without a little more activity in the working day. You may be familiar with the benefits of a standing desk (if not read our article on standing desks here).

Standing up to work on your computer can help you keep active and increase productivity. But if you are looking to really get moving on the job you may want to consider making a treadmill desk part of your custom home office set up.

A treadmill desk? What’s that?

Treadmill desks are an office furnishing trend that, for once, can actually do you some good! Fortune 500 companies like Hyatt, Google, and Evernote are racing to install these innovative workspaces that combine a regular desk with a fully functional treadmill. These alternative office desks give a new meaning to the phrase ‘plug and play’ as you can work from your laptop on the desk surface while working up a sweat on the treadmill under your feet. 

With this ingenious piece of executive office furniture, there is absolutely no way you can be caught sleeping on the job!

Treadmill desks were the brainchild of Nathan Edelson, who proposed the concept of such a desk way back in the 1980s patenting prototypes in the 1990s. The idea was subsequently revisited by US and British doctors James Levine and Roger Highfield, who advocated the health benefits of using treadmill desks, particularly their ability to increase user metabolism above the basal metabolic rate (the ‘standby mode’ of our metabolism).

Initial designs focused on a height-adjustable desk that could be placed over a regular treadmill. Later designs refined the concept with the production of fully integrated units where a purpose-built treadmill was created to fit under desks. 

Could treadmill desks ignite a health and fitness revolution?

These active workstations have not only captured the imagination of public and occupational health specialists but also workers who are keen to harness the benefits of moving a little more during the 9 to 5. A sedentary lifestyle is widely recognized as being bad for your health and associated with conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and obesity. Interventions that can produce lasting improvement in levels of daily physical activity are expected to curtail the development of these cardiovascular and endocrine disorders so it’s easy to see why treadmill desks are being touted as a useful solution.

If you are making a priority of keeping an active lifestyle while you are working from home, a treadmill desk could be a considered purchase. 

So, is a treadmill desk worth it? 

These desks don’t come cheap. You should expect to pay anything between $800 and $1800 for a high-quality workstation with a treadmill. With this kind of investment, you want to be sure that you will be reaping authentic benefits from your purchase, so let’s take a look at the evidence to see if treadmill desks really work

The great thing is that the question can be answered by medical research that has been undertaken to address the health benefits of using a treadmill desk as a solution to target sedentary living. Let’s take a look at some helpful studies that have been published in recent years.

Reviewing the benefits of treadmill desks in the workplace

The first piece of research on treadmill desks is actually an analysis or systematic review of several published studies relating to treadmill desk use from the Journal of Preventative Medicine. Published in 2018 by academics from the University of Prince Edward Island, the study looked at the physiological and psychological outcomes for office workers who used both treadmill and standing desks. 

The team found that treadmill desks had notable physiological effects including:

  • Improved blood glucose levels after eating
  • Beneficial changes in blood levels of High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and cholesterol.
  • Postural and ergonomic benefits were also found.

The improvements seen with the use of a treadmill desk were consistently greater than those obtained by using the standing desk which had few physiological advantages. For both types of desks, results for psychological well-being were mixed and there was little overall improvement in productivity on the job. 

The second piece of research published in Computers in Human Behavior in 2015 looked at whether there was any long term or delayed effect of treadmill desk use on memory. Participants in the study were invited by researchers to either sit down or use a treadmill desk to complete tasks like reading or sending a text.

Following the use of either text, the participants then had to complete a number of tasks that tested memory and attention. The neurophysiological activity was measured using EEG. The investigators found that the use of the treadmill desk was associated with a short-term increase in memory and attention, as measured by attainment on the tasks. 

A third study, from the Mayo Clinic and published in 2011 looked at work productivity levels among a pool of eleven medical transcriptionists, while using treadmill desks. Participants underwent training for four hours prior to using a treadmill desk while completing transcription tasks. The speed and accuracy of completed transcription work were measured along with calories burnt.

Results showed the transcriptionists were able to burn off up to 100 calories per hour and complete their tasks accurately. However, the speed of transcription fell a massive 16%, which the research team attributed to a short training period but may be unacceptable if hitting your daily goals and targets is a non-negotiable!

In conclusion

The idea of burning calories while still getting your workday completed is a tempting offer and clearly anything that increases much needed physical activity is positive. The treadmill desk appears to tick all the boxes and has been demonstrated in multiple studies to burn calories, improve cholesterol levels, and shift excess weight.

These benefits certainly make a treadmill desk a great choice for an escapist backyard office and will certainly help break up your day. However, for some people, using an active workstation like a treadmill desk will take some getting used to and for most, a sitting desk will still need to be on standby.