Good Life

Sayonara, seat: Treadmill desks grab attention of health conscious

My office is in the basement of White Building on the Penn State campus. It is in the most remote part of the building’s southern corner. The only reason you’d go farther than my office is if you needed to go “under the pool” for a repair. My office has no heat, no air conditioning and no window to the outside. What it does have is a constant stream of visitors.

Why would people walk to the near-basement of White Building to visit my office? They’re sightseeing.

In January, I bought a standup treadmill desk. Yes, I stand when I work on my computer. Occasionally, I turn on the treadmill and log a few miles during the workday as well. It’s not a new piece of equipment, but it’s rather rare on campus.

If you’re at all health conscious, you know exercise is one of the most important factors that will determine how healthfully and “gracefully” you will age. If you can exercise lightly while performing other necessary tasks, why not? To me, replacing a few hours of your sitting time with time on your feet seems like an obvious solution.

The average American now spends 11.5 hours, five days a week, sitting, and burns 100 fewer calories daily than a few decades ago. Sitting for long periods of time slows your metabolism, reduces calories burned and increases your risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Studies show that standing while working is good for posture, or at least not as bad as prolonged sitting. I notice I keep my back in a more neutral position and my head gently resting back more, rather than flexing forward. I actually feel like I am more engaged with my computer screen and can be more productive in a standing position.

Standing desks and treadmill desks can be pricey, but there are affordable options if you are willing to assemble.

There are models that are designed to match home décor, for those of you who have a home office. Students can find apartment-sized pop-up standing/tread desks that will adjust from sitting to standing and back, much like the TV trays of the 1970s.

For those of you who work in an office building, my desk was actually less expensive than its non-standing equivalent. You’ll likely want to keep your conventional desk for face-to-face meetings, but most other office tasks can be done while standing or walking.

Even telephone conversations are now something I choose to do while standing.

Once you decide to commit to a standing/moving workstation, there are some things to remember:

Read the section of your owner’s manual on ergonomics and desk height. An improperly fitted standing desk can leave you more open to injury.

Ease into using your standing desk slowly, much like you would any exercise program. Begin with an hour a day standing and then return to your sitting desk for the remainder of the day. Gradually increase your standing/walking time over the next few weeks to allow your muscles and your spine to adjust to the new work position.

Since January, I have logged about 8 to 9 miles a week on my treadmill desk. While that number may seem insignificant, over the course of a year that equates to nearly two marathons of additional walking.

For now, I am happy that people make the trek to my office just to see the treadmill desk. My long-term hope is that their visit to the basement of White Building will actually motivate them to buy one of their own.

Feel free to stop by and see it.