Thursday, September 18, 2008

I Put In 5 Miles at the Office

“In 2005, Dr. [James] Levine [an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic] led a study showing that lean people burn about 350 more calories a day than those who are overweight, by doing ordinary things like fidgeting, pacing or walking to the copier. To incorporate extra movement into the routines of sedentary workers (himself included), Dr. Levine constructed the first known treadmill desk by sliding a bedside hospital tray over a $400 treadmill. With a laptop and a phone headset, he said he can go all day at a leisurely 1.4 miles an hour. Without breaking a sweat, the so-called work-walker can burn an estimated 100 to 130 calories an hour at speeds slower than two miles an hour, Mayo research shows. Enthusiasts began following Dr. Levine’s example, constructing treadmill desks that range from sleekly robotic set-ups to rickety mash-ups that could be Wall-E’s long-lost kin. But the recent introduction of an all-in-one treadmill desk from Details may inch work-walking into the mainstream, as dozens of businesses invest in the hardware to let their employees walk (and, ideally, lose a little weight) at work. Since last November, about 335 Walkstations, have been sold nationwide to companies including Humana, Mutual of Omaha, GlaxoSmithKline and Best Buy. The Walkstation, which Dr. Levine helped develop, costs about $4,000 and comes in 36 laminate finishes with an ergonomically curved desktop. Its quiet motor is designed for slow speeds, said David Kagan, director of marketing communications at Details, a division of Steelcase. Still, to most, work-walking is ‘a freaky thing to do,’ said Joe Stirt, 60, an anesthesiologist in Charlottesville, Va., who works and blogs in his off hours while walking up to six hours a day in his home office. ‘I know lots of people who are using them,’ Dr. Stirt said of the treadmill desks. ‘But there are probably a hundred times more who we don’t read about on the Internet.’ There is even a burgeoning social network (, with around 30 members, that Mr. Rhoads started in March. To the uninitiated, work-walking sounds like a recipe for distraction. But devotees say the treadmill desks increase not only their activity but also their concentration.’ James O. Hill, an obesity researcher and the director of the University of Colorado’s Center for Human Nutrition in Denver, shares this opinion: “There are not very many people who can’t walk,” he said. “You should have a doctor’s note to not walk.’ Will work-walking free you from the gym forever? Not if you’re seeking serious weight loss or peak cardio-respiratory fitness. ‘Walking on the treadmill could be enough to prevent weight gain, but it’s not going to melt the pounds off,’ Dr. Hill said. ‘At least a little bit of exercise will just be part of my day and part of my working,’ he said. ‘The one thing I always do is work.’”

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