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

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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

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Mary Gagnon uses a treadmill desk at her home in Danville, Calif.

2011 MCT file

Maloney said anyone trying an exercise ball, treadmill desk or other moving workstation should approach it as they would any new exercise regimen. Those who have not been working out regularly should start using the equipment in small time increments to avoid injury, he said.

"They have to just do it with some common sense and not overdo it," Maloney said.

Georges Harik, founder of the Web-based instant messaging service imo.im in Palo Alto, Calif., bought two treadmill desks for his 20-person office to share three years ago. Employees tend to sort through email or do other work while using the treadmills.

"I do it when I can," he said. "Sometimes it's not possible if you're really thinking hard or programming a lot. But this sort of low-grade activity that keeps people from being sedentary probably helps extend their lives by a few years, and we're big fans of that."

The office also has purchased standing desks for most of its employees. The desks can be raised up or down with the touch of a button, and Harik says three or four workers can be seen standing at their desks at any one time.

But not everyone wants one, Harik said. Some workers find it too distracting to incorporate standing or walking into their work, and some feel they are just not coordinated enough to multitask as they exercise.

Levine said he was at first skeptical that a standup desk would offer health benefits.

"It appears I was completely wrong," he said. "Once you're off your bottom, it's inevitable that you start meandering around. Within two minutes of standing, one activates a series of metabolic processes that are beneficial. Once you sit, all of those things get switched off."

Denise Bober, director of human resources at The Breakers, a resort hotel in Palm Beach, Fla., said having a treadmill desk has made a big difference in how she feels after work.

"The more movement and interaction I have, the more energy I have at the end of the day," she said.

Bober spends one to three hours walking when she's in the office, usually at 2 mph.

"If I go faster, then I make too many typing errors, but if I'm just reading a report I can go faster," she said.

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