Are Treadmill Desks a Sad Commentary on the Times?


This post was originally published by Kathleen Hale (Rebel Desk CEO) on LinkedIn. 

When I talk to people about working at a treadmill desk, I occasionally get a response like this:

“Exercising while you work? Are we that busy? What has the world come to!”

Is the treadmill desk another sign that work is consuming our lives? What’s next? A stapler that doubles as a nail clipper? A water cooler built into the desk drawer?

Before we start imagining the horrors that a treadmill desk might lead to, let’s step back and consider why treadmill desks recently have become so popular. Treadmill desk sales are at record levels not because people have become workaholics who are chained to their desks. Rather, the work day has become incredibly sedentary, and people are seeking ways to add some movement.

In 1900, 80% of jobs in America involved physical labor. People would say “sit down and take a load off” because sitting was what people did to take a break from being on their feet. As the use of technology in the workplace has risen, however, the need for physical activity on the job dropped. In 1970, 2 in 10 Americans had jobs where they predominately sat at a desk. By 2000, 4 in 10 adults had light-activity jobs. For most people, work involves plopping themselves in a chair and staring at a screen for the majority of the day. By 2020, it is estimated that 80% of jobs in the U.S. will be sedentary – an exact reversal from work life in 1900.

Now there are not many of us who wish to return to the working conditions of 1900. The modern workplace though is not without its own aches and pains. With the reversal of active time and sedentary time happening in the blink of history’s eye, our bodies have become unsuspecting subjects in a study on the effects of prolonged sitting. The results of this unplanned experiment are not good. Prolonged sitting essentially causes the body’s natural processes to be disrupted. Blood does not flow as well. Fats and sugars are not broken down as quickly – or at all. Muscles atrophy. Backs tighten. The more you sit, the higher your risk of a major cardiovascular event, diabetes, stroke, certain cancers, and even early death.

How do we stave off these negative effects from sitting if our lives for the foreseeable future involve hours in front of computers, tablets, and phones? Unfortunately just hitting the gym (when we do have time) is not enough. The research shows that regular exercise does not eliminate the risks associated with excessive sitting.

To solve the inactivity problem, we have to think bigger than the gym. We must give ourselves options other than sitting while we work. We need the option to work while standing, or better yet, while walking slowly at a treadmill desk.

A treadmill desks is not merely a way to pack exercise into our otherwise hectic lives. It is a way to add movement into an otherwise movement-less day. A treadmill desk allows you to keep your blood flowing, muscles engaged, and metabolism up while you work. It lets you feel empowered and energized rather than tired and antsy. It can boost your productivity and keeping your creative juices flowing. And a treadmill desk keeps you off of your duff, making it more likely you lead a long, healthy life.

The sad commentary on our times is not the treadmill desk. The sad commentary is that so few people have an option other than sitting while they work despite study after study showing that sitting wreaks havoc on our health. Despite that an estimated 65 million Americans suffer from back pain. Despite obesity levels among adults reaching their highest point since the statistic was recorded. Despite evidence that the risk of premature death grows 15 percent for those who sit eight hours a day.

It’s time to flip the narrative so that people don’t see the treadmill desk as the sad commentary on our times. It’s time to see the lack of options to do anything other than sit as a sad commentary. We’ve embraced our technology-driven culture, now let’s do what is best for our bodies to co-exist with it.

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