You may spend your working hours at your computer, but you don’t have to spend them sitting down. “Individuals who sit at their desks all day long are prone not only to obesity, but diabetes, blood pressure problems, cancers, depression and premature death,” says Phoenix, Ariz.-based Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic.
He encourages workers to stop thinking of working hours as the time when they need to be sedentary and off-work hours as the time to be active, and start incorporating movement into daily office activities.
Levine is the brain behind the “treadmill desk” -- a standing desk that is built around a treadmill and is designed to help office workers counteract the negative effects of sitting. “I analyzed the data [on the harmful effects of sitting all day] and thought the difference between someone who’s lean and someone who has obesity is 2 ¼ hours of walking time,” says Levine, who built the first treadmill desk prototype in 2005 out of a hospital tray and a $300 treadmill.
Mayo Clinic researchers estimate that overweight office workers who replace sitting computer time with walking computer time for two to three hours per day could lose 44 to 66 pounds a year walking at a slow pace, without even breaking a sweat.
“I really wanted to maximize the amount of activity I do and integrate it into my day,” says Levine. The treadmill desk has benefits that go beyond the physical. “People feel more energized, productivity improves, people with back and joint problems get better, and people feel brighter,” says Levine. The treadmill desk design was picked up by Steelcase who has been selling Walkstations to companies nation-wide. The Walkstation costs approximately $4,000 and has a two mile per hour maximum belt speed.
Even without the expense and commitment of a treadmill desk, there are many other ways you can incorporate movement into your daily work routine. “There are so many work tasks, meetings for example, that can be converted into walk and talk meetings with health benefits, says Levine.
Other opportunities to add movement in your work day include walking or cycling to the office. If you take the bus or subway, get off a stop or two early and walk the rest of the way.
And finally, if you can’t give up sitting while you work, consider swapping your office chair for a fitness-ball chair, which typically cost around $100. An exercise ball is not only good for your posture, it helps you to improve balance and tone your core muscles.