Exercise While You Work

November 28, 2012 — In a recent broadcast on NPR’s Morning Edition, Patti Neighmond talked about some changes she made to integrate more physical activity into her workday. 

Neighmond, who works from home, first raised her desk high enough to accommodate standing for a month, getting used to being on her feet while she worked. But that wasn’t her ultimate objective. Neighmond was preparing for a more dramatic change: adding a treadmill under the desk.

The change has taken some getting used to. Even at a "working pace" of 1.4 mph, Neighmond says it isn’t easy to talk, think, write, and walk at the same time. James Levine, an obesity expert at the Mayo Clinic who invented treadmill desk, says, "There’s a tendency to want to jump on the treadmill and walk for hours and hours a day. Don’t do that. Certainly, at the absolute maximum, do half-hour on, half-hour off, for two to three hours a day."

Levine consults with companies on how to increase activity. According to him, work spaces since the 60s have been designed to minimize movement. He encourages active working practices such as "walk and talk" meetings, where participants walk the halls or outside around the building. Levine conducted an experiment with a company where 18 employees were encouraged to walk as they worked at treadmill desks for three hours per day. After six months, every employee had lost weight and cholesterol and triglycerides were down.

Neighmond admits she hasn’t written a story while walking yet. According to Levine, certain tasks are better left for sitting.

Read (or listen to) the NPR story here. Read a study by Levine on physical activity at work here.