The concept of active workstations is becoming increasingly popular in today’s office environments. With everything from exercise ball chairs to balance boards and standing desks, new products are constantly being introduced and marketed to buyers with claims of improving productivity and physical fitness. The treadmill desk was first put on the market in 2007 and is still around today. But are there any true benefits that make a treadmill desk superior to sitting? Or does it take the concept of multi-tasking too far and lead to detriments in quality and efficiency? Here are some things to know when considering using a treadmill desk:
Researchers have found mixed results from treadmill desk use in terms of effect on cognitive function.
Some studies report significant negative impacts on learning, processing speed, and attention (Larson et al., 2015a), while others found significant positive impacts on short-term memory and attention after getting off the treadmill (Labonté-LeMoyne et al., 2015).
To further highlight the dissensus, some of those same researchers have later concluded that slow treadmill walking had little to no effect on cognitive control performance (Larson et al., 2015b).
Treadmill desk use has been found to be detrimental or have no effect on typing speed and accuracy.
If you intend to do work that requires typing on a treadmill desk, the optimal speed was found to be 1.4 miles (2.25 km) per hour, which produced no difference in typing speed compared to sitting conditions (Funk et al., 2012).
A treadmill desk can produce positive physiological effects but should not be used as a substitution for regular physical activity.
Koepp et al. (2013) observed increased daily physical activity, both during and outside of working hours, as well as significant decreases in daily sedentary time for individuals using a treadmill desk over the course of a year. Demonstrated health benefits were minimal, with the group only seeing significant increases in HDL, and no significant changes in triglycerides, glucose, LDL, TSH, and total cholesterol.
Based on these findings, treadmill desks are clearly not the end-all be-all of office furniture, and more research needs to be conducted to come to a clear consensus on the effects of treadmill desk use. Users should know that they may see declines in attention and typing ability when using these desks and keep that in mind when making decisions about the type of workstation they’ll be using. Treadmill desks shouldn’t be used all the time and may be best suited for tasks that don’t require typing or a high degree of focus. They could be useful for activities such as brainstorming sessions, reading emails, or taking phone calls.
Funk, R. E., Taylor, M. L., Creekmur, C. C., Ohlinger, C. M., Cox, R. H., & Berg, W. P. (2012). Effect of walking speed on typing performance using an active workstation. Perceptual and motor skills, 115(1), 309-318.
Koepp, G. A., Manohar, C. U., McCrady‐Spitzer, S. K., Ben‐Ner, A., Hamann, D. J., Runge, C. F., & Levine, J. A. (2013). Treadmill desks: A 1‐year prospective trial. Obesity, 21(4), 705-711.
Labonté-LeMoyne, É., Santhanam, R., Léger, P. M., Courtemanche, F., Fredette, M., & Sénécal, S. (2015). The delayed effect of treadmill desk usage on recall and attention. Computers in Human Behavior, 46, 1-5.
Larson, M. J., LeCheminant, J. D., Hill, K., Carbine, K., Masterson, T., & Christenson, E. (2015a). Cognitive and typing outcomes measured simultaneously with slow treadmill walking or sitting: implications for treadmill desks. PloS one, 10(4), e0121309.
Larson, M. J., LeCheminant, J. D., Carbine, K., Hill, K. R., Christenson, E., Masterson, T., & LeCheminant, R. (2015b). Slow walking on a treadmill desk does not negatively affect executive abilities: an examination of cognitive control, conflict adaptation, response inhibition, and post-error slowing. Frontiers in psychology, 6, 723.