Cognitive Daily

Lots of news outlets are buzzing about a new stand-up treadmill workstation. The idea is that you work standing up for part of the day, walking at a very slow pace, burning calories but still getting just as much done. Here’s a photo from the Cleveland Leader:


My first thought is “how could I possibly get any work done standing on that contraption?”, but results of an initial study suggest that workers are just as productive:

The authors add that the study participants found the equipment easy to use and were able to work normally, to the extent that they wanted to continue using it after the study had finished.

And, the authors claim, all that exercise can lead to a real benefit for obese people:

Energy expenditure was measured while working and walking for 35 minutes out of an hour in total and compared with that burned while working, seated at a desk. The average energy burned while seated at a desk was 72 kilocalories per hour. But the volunteers burned 191 kilocalories an hour while at the vertical workstation and walking the equivalent of 1 mile an hour.

The authors calculate that if obese employees used the vertical workstation for a couple of hours a day, they could boost their energy expenditure by 100 kilocalories an hour. Over the course of a year, that could translate into shedding between 20 and 30 kg, they say.

Sound too good to be true? I suspect it probably is. Who’s to say people won’t eat more to compensate? Maybe people using the workstation would be a little fitter, but losing weight is a little more complicated than just burning a few extra calories every day, as this New York Times article attests.


  1. #1 Ted
    May 16, 2007

    I would welcome something like this not necessarily for obesity only but for things like pulmonary embolisms that may result from too much time in one position.

    On the downside, I’m concerned that this would become as expensive as medical equipment is, leading to adding extra, spiraling costs to the already more expensive American worker. If you have this type of workstation what’s to stop the addition of biofeedback devices to alert you when the best time is to stand and start walking and when to sit to increase efficiency. And when to have your snack. When you’ve had too much coffee. When you’re becoming too stressed. Etc.

    But lets go back to the real world; the cost of labor is going down daily so it would be cheaper just to keep doing what we’re doing.

  2. #2 Liz
    May 16, 2007

    As Ted said, this is more likely to help with conditions exacerbated by sitting than with obesity. I’m thinking of lower back problems, which are pretty common.

    Some employers might buy these workstations for the same reason they’re now buying $1000 Aeron chairs – because they think it will improve employee retention and morale and help slow healthcare spending.

  3. #3 MidniteArrow
    May 16, 2007

    As a worker that sits behind a computer all day, I would welcome anything that let me work on personal fitness while doing so. As others suggest, this won’t affect obesity to a large degree. Combatting a natural tendency for obesity requires personal will, which this won’t give the user. But for those that do have the will, it would allow them to focus on work. One of the main reasons I leave work is to go to the gym. If I could do my aerobic exercise while working, that’s another 30 minutes of my day I could stay at work.

  4. #4 Joseph
    May 16, 2007

    I would be interested in this not for the health benefits but for the boost to mental productivity.

    I’m a researcher and most of my best work happens when I’m walking, presumably because of the increased blood flow to the brain. Being able to think more effectively in the office would be fantastic.

  5. #5 katie
    May 16, 2007

    I’m all for multi-tasking and I personally detest just sitting in a chair in front of the computer all day. Anything to help me be more active would be welcomed!

  6. #6 Theodore Price
    May 16, 2007

    Liz, I think you have it right, I have serious low back problems and if I could find a place to buy one of these I would do it. I often get up to walk around 2-3 times / hr just so I can handle the pain. I cannot imagine how much more productive I would be with one of these things..

  7. #7 Stephen Downes
    May 16, 2007

    > losing weight is a little more complicated than just burning a few extra calories every day

    Actually, isn’t much more complicated that that. A little exercise every day goes a long way toward balancing your caloric input.

    I have long considered something similar, and have used my laptop on my stationary bike at home (I’m making a wood platform for it because it’s unstable).

  8. #8 who, me?
    May 16, 2007

    I think Seth Roberts reports he sleeps much better if he stands up most of the day.

  9. #9 Chris Brophy
    May 16, 2007

    More than a strike at the fatty heart of office-potato obesity, this contraptions would probably do more for productivity–increased blood flow and all. Also, walking could help focus attention and keep thoughts from wandering, all while energizing both body and mind. Whenever I study on the elliptical machines, my attention is like a laser beam on whatever is infront of me. Plus the heightened state of arousal, the racing heart and the deep breathing, makes the material feel so exciting. Counseling frameworks? Exhilarating! Especially Freud, that cigar-sucking stud.

  10. #10 Brian
    May 16, 2007

    I have a home-grown setup for a workstation at a treadmill. It is good for an hour to 90 minutes, but after that it can get tedious. It’s nice to get on and get off as needed. Just like most people don’t like to sit all day, most don’t like to stand all day or walk all day.

    Prepare for other injuries. If you start walking all day after years of sitting, you’ll first experience shin-splints, then other foot ailments. The answer is *good* shoes, proper stretching, and work up to your walk time. I run 40 minutes and surf the web daily, with 20 minutes of handling email, etc.

    BTW I can do any work at 2 – 2.5 mph, most work at 3-3.5 mph. I can read (and write a little) surf the net when running, but stressful heavy thinking work is even more stressfull higher speeds.

  11. #11 Alan Kellogg
    May 16, 2007

    #4 Joseph,

    It has been noted that small boys open up and talk about things faster when taken out for walks. Be interesting to learn if male human cognition overall improves with hiking.

    I can see a new take on an old saying taking hold because of this.

    “He can’t walk and type at the same time.”

  12. #12 tekel
    May 17, 2007

    any significant adoption of this sort of workstation exercise idea, whether it’s a bike or a treadmill or whatever, will require massive changes in office design- you’ll need showers, changing rooms, additional ventilation to compensate for the heat and the stink, etc. etc. etc. maybe in new construction, but in most offices this will never take root.

  13. #13 Ted
    May 18, 2007

    …additional ventilation to compensate for the heat and the stink…

    The knowledge worker’s sweatshop?

    It would need to be framed properly:

    Strategy 1. With the use of this technology, the productivity and thinking ability of Conglo Corp employees raises x%. It’s worth the expense relative to absenteeism due to workforce health problems. Plus the circulation makes for better thinking and clearer business decisions.

    Strategy 2: Conglomo Corp really cares about the wellbeing and health of our employees. Also, the manufacturer’s claim that with regular regimen of work-walks, mental processes benefit — potentially staving off Alzheimer’s. Think of the children and the grandchildren. Hardbodies all around!

    Strategy 3: Stink? Who cares? We’ll keep shifting the work to lower cost labor where air-conditioning is optional in the first place.

  14. #14 Dave Munger
    May 18, 2007


    I think the idea is that the treadmill runs so slowly that you never work up a sweat. You’re going perhaps 1 mile an hour — a third of normal walking pace.

    If the thing really worked to reduce obesity, it would probably pay for itself in reduced health care costs. But whether it really works is the bigger question.

  15. #15 Wally Bock
    May 20, 2007

    I don’t see any measure of productivity in either your post or in the original article. The closest anyone seems to come is the statement that people could “work normally.” With no measure of work output, we don’t know if there are coordination issues (walking and typing at the same time) or whether some natural movements (reaching for a file, checking a paper document) are harder or less effective.

  16. #16 cien2
    May 23, 2007

    hmm i think if we don’t have a treadmill, we can do like jogging, it’s work for me also.
    Because if we have to use it, hmmm you should buy or go to gym center. You have to pay for it.

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