A good day on the treadmill

By Jeremy Laurance

As answers to obesity go, the idea two American scientists dreamed up could transform our notion of work.

Instead of having the overweight walk to walk, the pair have designed a desk that enables them to walk at work.

The walking desk - or "vertical workstation" as the researchers prefer to call it - is fixed to a treadmill which enables the office worker to kill two birds with one stone - send emails, check invoices and write reports and burn calories at the same time.

Professor James Levine and Jennifer Miller of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, say using their device for a couple of hours a day could help obese employees shed up to 30kg in a year.

They tested the contraption on 15 people who had sedentary jobs and never did any exercise.

The participants set the speed of the treadmill themselves, and carried on working at the computer fixed above it on a frame with two adjustable arms.

One arm carried the screen, the other the keyboard and mouse.

The participants burned more than twice as much energy at the walking desk as they did at their usual workstation. Their energy expenditure was measured while they walked and worked for 35 minutes out of an hour and compared with the amount of energy used while working seated at an ordinary desk.

There were no falls or injuries and no unsteadiness.

The participants enjoyed using the device and needed only minutes to get used to it, the researchers said.

The results showed the average energy burned while seated was 72 kilocalories an hour, and that burned at the walking desk was 191 kilocalories an hour. The participants' walking speed was 1.6km/h.

The authors say using the walking desk for a couple of hours a day could boost energy expenditure by 100 kilocalories an hour. That could translate into a weight loss of 20kg to 30kg in a year, they say in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

A big reason for the expansion of waistlines over the past 30 years is the increase in sedentary work. The hammer and the shovel have been replaced for millions by the keyboard and the mouse.

Strategies to persuade office workers to be more active - by avoiding the lift and climbing the stairs, for example - have had limited success because the time involved is too short. Extra commitment, such as exercise classes at lunch time, are not encouraged by employers because they involve staff leaving their desks. But the walking desk promotes productivity and health - satisfying employer and employee.

So successful was the experiment that after the study was over the participants asked if they could continue using the equipment.

The desks cost about $2700 each and are designed to slide over a standard treadmill.

By 2010, it has been predicted, more than half the workforce of developed countries will be working at computers.


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