Is Sitting the New Smoking?
There are many ways to design an office to increase productivity. Some talk about sunlight, some talk about music, others physical workspace. For those who find the pace of work causes them to break into a sweat and that tasks always keep them running... a new scientific study suggests that... well, that's okay and that it's even better if you feel like you are running in place during office hours.
Scientists at the University of Texas, Arlington decided to check into how worker productivity would be impacted if they installed treadmill desks. That is, a device that would allow an employee to walk while performing their tasks and duties. The idea for the office treadmill started at the Mayo Clinic under Dr. James Levine, as a way to possibly excite more activity for a population suffering the effects of a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and the health effects that stem from the two.
"One of the reasons America is getting fatter, as we all know over time," Darla Hamann, assistant professor in the School of Urban and Public Affairs at UT Arlington, bluntly assessed, "is because we're moving a whole lot less at work than we used to before many of us transitioned into office jobs." She says that if we look at obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and a number of other factors the question becomes, "Is sitting the new smoking?"
Hamann ran the 52 week study to look into the effectiveness of returning motion into a sedentary occupation like accounting.
For this experiment, 40 subjects were given the opportunity to walk on the treadmill. Walking speed was limited to 2mph and when the device was used was left up to the discretion of the employee. No one was expected to chug along for the full eight hours. This treadmill was designed in such a way that by pressing a button, the treadmill would raise and could become a platform where the person could sit and resume their tasks.
Initially, over the first few months, Hamann reports that the workers actually decreased in their level of job performance. She attributes this to the learning curve. However, as the experiment continued the trends improved significantly as workers learned not only how to use the exercise device, but what tasks were better performed while walking and which were superior while seated.
Using accelerometers, the data reports that subjects burned 74 additional calories a day when the treadmill was in the office. Hamann suggests this shows an overall low usage of the machine during work hours, but did represent an overall increase. Overall, the number of minutes in the sedentary category, that is, the amount of time where subjects were moving at less than 1 mph fell while moderate levels of activity (between 1-2 mph) increased.
While the increased activity did not seem to have a carryover effect into non-work hours, "what we noticed," Hamann explains, "was that when the treadmill was in the office and they had a treadmill desk that the calories went up."
Researchers from UT Arlington also looked at how stress levels were impacted by use of the treadmills. At baseline, workers graded themselves on average as being a 1.4 (on a four point stress scale). With this population, Hamann did not find any significant changes in stress levels during the period of the experiment.
And after the 52 weeks were up, the managers decided to keep the forty treadmill desks and in follow-up discussions, four years after the first iteration of the experiment all the treadmills were still in use.