The treadmill desk combines a standing-height desk and an office treadmill to give you the ultimate active-working workstation. The treadmill workstation lets you engage in that most natural of human activities – walking – while you work at your desk.
Dozens of scientific studies now support the many anecdotal reports of the benefits of working while walking on a treadmill.
You think and perform better when you move. For example, one study found that both memory and attention improved more among workers who learned a task while walking on an office treadmill than those who were seated (Labonté-LeMoyne 2015). Some activities that require fine motor control – like graphic design or navigating a complex spreadsheet – are best done at a conventional seated or standing desk. But even studies that found a slight reductions in productivity note that “those declines may not outweigh the benefit of the physical activity gains from walking on a treadmill.” (Larson 2015)
The list of accomplished people who relied on walking for inspiration is impressive: Beethoven, Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, and Steve Jobs all found and developed ideas as they walked. A 2014 Stanford study found that “walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goal of increasing creativity” (Oppezzo & Schwartz 2014). This inspiration occurred whether the subjects were inside or outdoors and worked just as well on a treadmill.
“Motion is lotion” is a truism in the world of physical medicine. Your body is designed to move, and it feels better when you do. Back-pain sufferers often notice an immediate reduction in pain just on the walk to the kitchen in the morning. The heel pain that comes with plantar fasciitis often diminishes after a short walk. Similarly, the simple act of occasionally walking on a treadmill during your work day can keep your legs, hips, spine, neck, and shoulders limber and comfortable.
Several studies have shown that walking on a treadmill can reduce levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and other indicators of disease risk.
You burn more calories when you walk than when you stand or sit. So if you use a treadmill desk for any length of time each you’ll shed a few pounds.
Treadmill desks may not work in every office or for every situation due to a number of factors.
Treadmill workstations aren’t cheap. For a new entry-level walking workstation, you’ll need to invest at least $1,200. A stylish, high-quality one can easily cost more than $3,000.
The long-term trend of smaller offices shows no signs of stopping. Treadmill workstations require more room both for the treadmill itself and for stowing the chair you aren’t sitting in. So, with office space at a premium, treadmill desks may not be as widely adopted as they might be otherwise. One obvious work-around for both this issue and the cost concern is to share. Sharing makes even more sense when you consider that even the most ardent treadmill desker probably won’t want to walk all day.
The most common concerns that I hear from facilities managers, ergonomics practitioners, and occupational safety and health managers involve safety and legal liability. While I have yet to hear of a fall or injury involving treadmill desks, these folks, and the attorneys to whom they are accountable, are understandably concerned about a workstation that includes a moving work surface which might also protrude into walkways and adjacent workspaces.
Treadmill Desk Vendors
Your buying choices are fairly limited at this point in the evolution of the treadmill-workstation marketplace, with just a few manufacturers offering office treadmills.
Stand-Alone Office Treadmills
If you already have a standing desk or have decided on which one you want to pair up with your office treadmill, you can buy a stand-alone office treadmill.
When you shop for a standing desk to go with your office treadmill that it adjusts high enough to accommodate the additional height of the treadmill, typically four to six more inches than you’d need if you were simply standing. Many standing desks become wobbly at their highest setting, so this is an important consideration as you put together your treadmill workstation.
LifeSpan dominates this market, offering three different office treadmills, the TR800, TR1200, and TR5000, ranging from $600 to $1,500. Rebel Desk offers one model for about $700. And iMovr recently introduced their $1,500 ThermoTread model.
Integrated Treadmill Workstations
Those three vendors, as well as a couple of others, also sell integrated office workstations that combine the treadmill and desk in one package.
LifeSpan pairs a standing-height desk with each of their treadmills to create the TR800-DT5, TR1200-DT5, and TR5000-DT5 treadmill workstations. Rebel Desk and iMovr both let you put together your own combination of treadmill and standing desk.
If you go shopping online, you’ll also find some exercise treadmills with desk surfaces attached. Both ProForm and NordicTrack both offer these “desk treadmill” workstations. These are basically exercise treadmills with a desk surface attached, hence the name “desk treadmill” instead of “treadmill desk.”
Walking while you work presents some interesting ergonomic considerations. Here are a few things to look out for as you begin working at a treadmill desk:
- Adjust your desk to the right height. If you have to flex or extend your wrists to reach your keyboard, you’re just inviting a repetitive strain injury. Make sure your desk is adjusted so that you can operate your keyboard and pointing devices without bending your wrists (unlike that poor woman in the photo at the top of this page). As mentioned above, be sure to select a standing desk that remains stable at the height that works with your treadmill.
- Adjust your monitor to the right position. Depending on the size of your monitor, it should be somewhere between 20 and 40 inches away from your eyes. The bottom of the monitor should be just a bit closer to you than the top (sloping the screen like this encourages better neck and head posture). The top of the monitor should be a bit below eye level. You may need a sturdier monitor arm or stand when you work at a treadmill desk. Even though the desk and treadmill are typically separated, the movement of your body and the vibration of the floor can cause your monitor to sway.
- Wear comfortable walking shoes. Stylish shoes can make walking awkward, and some high heels might even damage the treadmill surface. If you need to wear nice shoes for meetings or your own style, be sure to keep a pair of comfortable walking shoes at your desk.
- Pay attention to your gait as you walk, especially when you’re starting out. Walk as naturally as possible, and experiment with the treadmill speed to find the pace that works best for you. Most office treadmills max out at two to four miles per hour (because the idea of a treadmill desk is to simply get you moving, not exercising). Most people’s natural pace is quicker than this, so it can feel awkward at first, but most folks adapt quickly.
- Vary your walking pace. As you learn to work at a treadmill desk, you’ll find that some activities require more attention than others, and slowing your walking pace can help you focus. If you’re just reading or checking emails, a faster pace may work just fine.
- Take regular breaks. Walking at work can help fight sitting disease, but few people want to walk all day. Take breaks to stand or sit (or squat) every half hour or so.