What it really feels like to work at a treadmill desk

Melt off that muffin top, add years to your life and clear out your inbox (without breaking a sweat!) on a treadmill desk — coming soon to an office near you.

Photo by Roberto Caruso

Treadmill desks from companies like LifeSpan are bringing workouts to workspaces in a bid to help nine-to-fivers stop sitting on the job. Lifespan treadmill desk, from $999,

Find your stride
Jaws dropped at Chatelaine HQ when two hunky delivery guys rolled in with a large package. People couldn’t help but stop and stare. Except it wasn’t their Channing Tatum good looks that caught everyone’s attention; it was the brand spanking new treadmill desk they quickly unpacked, assembled and left behind in prime real estate by the window.

As the first person to test walk this work-friendly exercise machine, I got a lot of curious glances. But pretty soon everyone else wanted to hop on. It’s all part of a growing trend to get us off our butts during the workday — and it couldn’t come at a better time.

Researchers at Brigham Young University in Utah recently linked lack of exercise with poor work performance and lower productivity of up to 50 percent. Then there are the health risks of our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, dubbed the “sitting disease.”

Inactivity stresses the heart, expands the waistline, clouds critical thinking and messes with how our bodies process cholesterol, blood sugar and fats. It can also lead to diabetes, cancer and premature death.

New research from Harvard Medical School says sedentary lifestyles cause one in 10 avoidable deaths (on par with cigarettes), officially making sitting the new smoking.

The good news is that a recent study found just cutting the time we spend on our derrières in half can increase our life expectancy by two years.

A cure for sitting disease
Considering up to 70 percent of us spend six or more hours a day in a chair, even weekly workouts aren’t enough to offset the damage of too little movement. Instead, researchers stress the importance of finding little ways to move every hour. Even if you don’t have fitness equipment in your office, taking time to stand, stretch or do a few squats makes a big difference.

“Several studies show that standing for two minutes every 20 minutes can fight the unhealthy effects of sitting,” says Gretchen Reynolds, author of The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer.

And if you take 20-minute walk breaks, the results are immediate: Blood pressure drops, blood sugar stabilizes and the enzyme that helps break up fat in your bloodstream fires up. After two weeks, research shows, you’ll even begin producing more brain cells, particularly those related to memory and learning. Reynolds was so impressed by the benefits of even short bouts of activity that she converted an old music stand into a standing desk in her own home, started pacing during telephone interviews and even began brushing her teeth while standing on one foot.

Making strides at work
Unlike regular gym models, treadmill desks max out at just over 6.4 km per hour, so they can run all day without burning out their motors. This also means we can ‘run’ a slow-moving marathon without noticing we’re doing it. The result? The Mayo Clinic says we can burn 800 calories or more a day, which can translate to weight loss of 15 to 50 pounds in a year.

What it really feels like
Walking while working is best achieved in baby steps. (Try 30-minute intervals until your body adjusts.) Because you’re moving slowly, it doesn’t interfere with daily tasks, like tapping out emails or talking on the phone (although if you’re prone to motion sickness, you might want to try before you buy). It’s worth noting that for tasks requiring intense concentration, sitting helps. That said, I came to crave the ‘walker’s high’ I got after a day on the treadmill desk. It helped me think more clearly, and I didn’t even need my afternoon sugar fix (research shows a simple 15-minute stroll can cut chocolate cravings in half). I also just felt better — light cardio boosts the production of feel-good chemicals and lowers levels of stress hormones.

More ways to move
If your workplace isn’t equipped with treadmill desks, Reynolds recommends simple changes to your office to make you more inclined to move. Try putting your computer on top of two or three encyclopedias to create your own standing desk, or download smartphone apps with alarms designed to remind you to get up and go. Some of our faves? StandApp, Stand Alarm, BreakTaker and Break Reminder.

Next year, LifeSpan plans to roll out a cycle desk. We can’t wait to give riding while we work a try!

Did you know
1. You can burn 12 calories by walking to a co-worker’s desk instead of emailing her?

2. Walking on a treadmill burns 126 extra calories an hour versus siting.

3. Standing burns an extra 56 calories an hour versus sitting.