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Researchers Question Benefits of Treadmill Desks

They add about 1,000 steps to a user’s day

FRIDAY, Feb. 20, 2015 (HealthDay News) — A new study may dampen some of the enthusiasm about treadmill desks. Researchers found that the desks are expensive, challenging to incorporate into an office setting, and may do little to boost meaningful activity levels. Findings from the study were published recently in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

To see how much, or how little, treadmill desks might help increase meaningful activity levels in a real-world office environment, the study authors spent three months tracking use of the devices among 20 employees of a private health insurance company. The goal was that employees would use the newly installed treadmills 90 minutes a day, spread across two sessions.

The reality didn’t match the goal, however. On average, the employees used the treadmills once a day, for a total of just 45 minutes, the researchers found. What’s more, the average speed was clocked at just under 2 mph, a velocity that investigators defined as “light” intensity, rather than the preferred moderate or vigorous activity that can lead to weight loss. In the end, the treadmills added about 1,000 steps a day to participants’ activity levels. Not surprisingly, there was little change in either weight or body mass index by the end of the study.

James Lowe, communications manager for Salt Lake City-based LifeSpan Fitness, a major manufacturer of workplace treadmills noted that study participants had to share the use of treadmill desks, and had to schedule their treadmill time in advance. In addition, the computers attached to the treadmills were shared computers, and only two treadmill workstations were equipped with phones. “The study restricted its subjects’ treadmill desk usage to such a degree, the subjects never had an opportunity to reach the daily step count recommended by the American Heart Association for maintaining good health,” Lowe told HealthDay. “If the subjects were prevented from walking on the treadmill desks, how could they have been expected to statistically improve their condition? We continue to stand by the many benefits of walking while working.”

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