September 15, 2013

Workstations go the extra mile

Studies show that walking – or even standing – at your desk can improve health, and employers are taking notice.

By SAM HANANEL The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Glued to your desk at work? Cross that off the list of reasons not to exercise.

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Josh Baldonado, an administrative assistant at Brown & Brown, an insurance consulting firm in Carmel, Ind., works at a treadmill desk. Treadmill desks designed for the workplace are normally set to move at 1 to 2 mph, enough to get the heart rate up.

The Associated Press

HEALTH-WRK-STANDING-DESK
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Mary Gagnon uses a treadmill desk at her home in Danville, Calif.

2011 MCT file

A growing number of Americans are standing, walking and even cycling their way through the workday at treadmill desks, standup desks or other moving workstations. Others are forgoing chairs in favor of giant exercise balls to stay fit.

Walking on a treadmill while making phone calls and sorting through emails means "being productive on two fronts," said Andrew Lockerbie, senior vice president of benefits at Brown & Brown, a global insurance consulting firm.

Lockerbie can burn 350 calories a day walking three to four miles on one of two treadmill desks that his company's Indianapolis office purchased earlier this year.

"I'm in meetings and at my desk and on the phone all day," he said. "It's great to be able to have an option at my work to get some physical activity while I'm actually doing office stuff. You feel better, you get your blood moving, you think clearly."

Treadmill desks designed for the workplace are normally set to move at 1 to 2 mph, enough to get the heart rate up but not too fast to distract from reading or talking on the phone comfortably.

It's been a decade since scientific studies began to show that too much sitting can lead to obesity and increase the risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Even going to the gym three times a week doesn't offset the harm of being sedentary for hours at a time, said Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic.

"There's a glob of information that sitting is killing us," Levine said. "You're basically sitting yourself into a coffin."

More companies are intrigued by the idea of helping employees stay healthy, lose weight and reduce stress -- especially if it means lower insurance costs and higher productivity, said Levine, an enthusiastic supporter of the moving workstations.

"Even walking at 1 mile an hour has very substantial benefits," Levine said, such as doubling metabolic rate and improving blood sugar levels. "Although you don't sweat, your body moving is sort of purring along."

Sales at Indianapolis-based TreadDesk are expected to increase 25 percent this year as large corporations, including Microsoft, Coca-Cola, United Healthcare and Procter & Gamble have started buying the workstations in bulk, said Jerry Carr, the company's president.

At LifeSpan Fitness, based in Salt Lake City, sales of treadmill desks more than tripled over 2012, said Peter Schenk, company president.

"We don't see the growth slowing down for several years as right now we are just moving from early adopters, which are educated and highly health-conscious, to more mainstream users," Schenk said.

With bicycle desks or desk cycles, workers can pedal their way through the day on a small stationary bike mounted under their desks.

Treadmill desks can range from about $800 to $5,000 or more, depending on the manufacturer and model. Desk cycles start as low as $149 for models that can fit under an existing desk but can run $1,400 or more for those with a desk built in. Standup desks can run as low as $250 for platforms that can rest on an existing desk.

Some workers have opted for lower-profile -- and lower-cost -- ways to stay fit at work, such as sitting on giant exercise balls instead of chairs. Using the inflatable balls can help improve posture and strengthen abs, legs and back muscles.

"I've got nurses in my operating room who will use one of those balls instead of a chair," said Michael Maloney, a sports medicine specialist at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

(Continued on page 2)

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