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June 27, 2103 Volume 34, No. 32

Working while walking offers health and job productivity benefits

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A WALK IN THE OFFICE Nikki Raedeke, dietetics program director, has lost weight since using the treadmill desk at her work station. She averages six miles a day. Studies show that sitting six hours or more a day places people at risk for chronic health conditions. Photo by Nicholas Benner.


Studies show that too much sitting has health risks

Instead of wearing work attire, Nikki Raedeke puts on sports clothes for work. In her office, she takes phone calls and types on the computer keyboard while walking on a treadmill.

She’s one of fewer than 10 MU employees using a treadmill desk.

The idea of a treadmill desk originated with Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic. Levine partnered with Steelcase, an office-furniture company, and in 2007 the first official model was available. 

Even though the treadmill desk was designed to encourage walking while working, the desk can be lowered for workers to sit down when needed. The adjustment can be done automatically or manually, depending on different models. The machines have a maximum speed of 2 mph.

Raedeke, director of the dietetics program in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, started using a treadmill desk after department chair Chris Hardin brought one to the office.

Hardin asked coworkers if they wanted one, and Raedeke stepped forward. She got her new desk in July 2012.

She said treadmill walking does not hamper most of her desk duties. But “walking and writing is not so good,” she said, smiling. “It comes out a little shaky.”

Raedeke averages six miles a day five days a week in her office. The longest distance she has walked in one day is 11 miles. She has walked 563 miles since Jan. 7.

“I have more energy and lost weight,” she said of the benefits.

As walking in her office became a habit, she no longer noticed her strides, Raedeke said.

Steve Ball, associate professor of nutrition and exercise physiology in the department, said the desk offers an opportunity to talk about the importance of exercise. “It’s a way for our department to practice what we preach,” he said.

Also, healthy employees many times are the most productive employees, Ball said.

The recommended standard for exercise is 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week. But most Americans don’t come close to that amount, studies show. Of the 3,900 benefit-eligible MU employees participating in Healthy for Life, a University of Missouri System wellness program, nearly half didn’t meet the recommended standard. 

Sitting most of the day not only damages posture, which can lead to back problems, Ball said. The inactivity places people at risk for chronic health problems, such as coronary heart disease, various cancers, type 2 diabetes and hypertension. 

According to a 2010 article published in American Journal of Epidemiology, sitting six or more hours a day can shave off years of one’s life. One study cited in the article found that people who sat only three hours or less a day had a 20 percent to 40 percent chance of dying sooner than active people. 

Also, too much sitting could cancel out many health benefits of someone’s formal exercise regime, such as three moderate to intense workouts a week.

Ball said people should not think of a treadmill desk as the main source of daily exercise. “A treadmill desk is not to replace exercise,” he said. “This is to supplement and to avoid long periods of sitting.”

Treadmill desks at MU are funded by the employee and sometimes by the employee’s department. The leading brands are Steelcase, LifeSpan and TrekDesk. 

— JeongAn Choi