FitnessI Put In 5 Miles at the Office
Chris Machian for The New York TimesWalking 9 to 5
Zandra Hooks, right, and Kirk Hurley can answer phones and do computer work (not to mention burn calories) on their Walkstations at Mutual of Omaha.
By MANDY KATZ
Published: September 16, 2008
TERRI KRIVOSHA, a partner at a Minneapolis law firm, logs three miles each workday on a treadmill without leaving her desk. She finds it easier to exercise
while she types than to attend aerobics classes at the crack of dawn.
Andrew Shurtleff for The New York Times
Dr. Joe Stirt on his home-office treadmill.
Brad Rhoads, a computer programmer and missionary in Princeton, Ill., faces a computer monitor on a file cabinet and gets in about five miles a day on a treadmill while working in his home office.
“After a while, your legs do get kind of tired,” said Mr. Rhoads, 40, who started exercising in March, when doctors advised him to lose weight after open-heart surgery.
Ms. Krivosha and Mr. Rhoads are part of a small but growing group of desk jockeys who were inspired by Dr. James Levine
, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic
. In 2005, Dr. Levine 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.
Mr. Stirt’s site, www.bookofjoe.com/2007/10/treadmill-works.html
, is one of some dozen work-walking blogs, including www.treadmill-desk.com
“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 (officewalkers.ning.com
), 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.
“I thought it was ridiculous until I tried it,” said Ms. Krivosha, 49, a partner in the law firm of Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand.
Ms. Krivosha said it is tempting to become distracted during conference calls, but when she is exercising, she listens more intently.
“Walking just takes care of the A.D.D.
part,” she said.
Still, work-walking can require crafty maneuvering. When colleagues drop in on Bruce Langer, another work-walker, he pivots, then keeps striding backward while facing them.
“It’s more polite and, from a workout standpoint, it works different muscles,” said Mr. Langer, a vice president of Tealwood Asset Management in Minneapolis.
In 2005, Salo, a professional placement firm in Minneapolis, contacted Dr. Levine after fashioning its first treadmill unit. (Employees called the cobbled-together unit “the Frankendesk.”) By 2007, Salo had become a test site for early Walkstation models and now has 16.
At Mutual of Omaha’s 150-person call center in Omaha, four Walkstations have been in use since July as part of a small company study to figure out whether work-walking could maintain productivity while reducing employees’ cholesterol
, weight and blood-sugar levels. Sixteen subjects of different ages, weights and fitness levels work-walk two hours a day, said Peggy Rivedal, the manager of employee health services. A similarly diverse control group works the old-fashioned way.
After leaving the military two years ago, Kirk Hurley, 40, a customer service representative at Mutual of Omaha, gained 75 pounds. In two months of work-walking two hours a day, he has lost 16 pounds.
“You don’t really feel the physical strain on your body because your mind’s occupied with your work,” he said.
Treadmill desks will not likely replace the sit-down kind any time soon. In corporate settings, they are usually in open areas where employees can just jump on. At a few firms, including Salo, they have replaced conference tables.
SOME business colleagues arrive at meetings with walking shoes in hand, said Amy Langer, a Salo founder (and Mr. Langer’s wife).
But not every employee has the enthusiasm to keep work-walking day after day. Take the trial Walkstation at Humana, a health insurer in Louisville, Ky.
After a year on site, the treadmill is in use about 60 percent of the workday, mostly for conference calls, said Grant Harrison, the vice president of consumer innovation. Many workers, he said, may “try it out, but they don’t make it a part of their daily life.”
Nor does everyone have the coordination to walk and work, said Andrew Wood, the director of ergonomics and corporate services for Muve, a weight-management consultancy affiliated with the Mayo Clinic.
“If you can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, this may not be the workstation for you,” Mr. Wood said. But it should be a piece of cake for most people, he added.
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.
Still, something is better than nothing, say workwalkers like Mr. Rhoads.
“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.”