The Human Hamster Wheel Gets the Conversation Rolling

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*This post was written by Rebel Desk CEO, Kathleen Hale and first published on LinkedIn.

Have you seen the human hamster wheel?

Yes, I said human hamster wheel. It is what is sounds like – a large wheel that a person can walk inside of while remaining in the same position. Just like, well, a hamster.


The human hamster wheel was created by artist Robb Godshaw and developer Will Doenlen. Godshaw and Doenlen are not selling their wheel. In fact, they postedinstructions on how to can create your own hamster wheel. With some plywood, skateboard wheels, and a whole lot of glue, you too can have a hamster wheel for your office!

Since posting their instructions, Godshaw’s and Doenlen’s project has garnered quite a bit of attention. It has been called both a “metaphor for capitalism” and an “awesome new invention.” Should we be laughing at the human hamster wheel? Running from it? Praising it?

Maybe a little bit of everything. Imagining an office full of hamster wheels certainly may conjure up feelings of literally trudging through the workday. The mental image is good for a laugh though, too. Mostly, I think we should be thanking Godshaw and Doenlen for putting their invention out for all to see. The attention it has garnered creates increased awareness that most of us spend way too much time sitting, and this message is one that needs to be spread.

I used to be an “active couch potato.” I exercised but I sat for hours on end at my job. This phenomenon is not uncommon, as more jobs require people to be tied to their computers and phones all day. A survey of marathon runners recently showed that while these folks were running 30-40 miles per week, they also were sitting for close to 12 hours a day. Research recently has shown that for every two hours you spend sitting, you can essentially cancel out the cardiovascular benefits of twenty minutes of exercise.

The marathon runners probably are faring better than the average American who is inactive for about 21 hours a day. But any prolonged sitting is bad news.

Kelly Starrett, a San Francisco physiotherapist,recently was quoted by the Seattle Times as saying:

The research has been crystal clear . . . You literally cannot make a case for sitting.

What I love about the human hamster wheel is the bold way it helps us to think about being more active. We all need to be aware of our activity levels outside of the time we spend exercising, especially at work. As this concept as gained acceptance in the medical and scientific community, “inactivity studies” now is a separate area of research. Experts want to document and understand the negative effects of sitting – from increased risk of chronic diseases and back pain to the link with depression and low energy.

But this is a shift in our thinking for most of us. We are used to thinking of exercise and movement in terms of something that you do for a discrete and specific amount of time. Now we need to start thinking of movement throughout the whole day, not just at the gym or on a run.

I experimented with increasing my movement during the worday, namely using standing and treadmill desks. I became such a convert to active working that I founded a company selling these types of products and now am a passionate advocate for active working. Whether it be a treadmill desk, hamster wheel, walking meeting, or the myriad of creative ways people are adding more activity into their day, we all benefit from seeing this movement grow.

Inventions like the hamster wheel help to get the conversation about activity going, and ultimately those conversations make it easier to shift our thinking about activity. The hamster wheel sheds an amusing light on a problem hiding in plain sight: sitting all day at work is wreaking havoc on our bodies and minds. Sure, we are not likely to be see offices filled with hamster wheels. But we might be more likely to evaluate the time we spend being sedentary and at least get up and move around a little bit more.

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