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Should you spring for a treadmill desk?

According to a recent study published in Computers in Human Behavior, the answer is a resounding yes. There’s more and more research, warnings, and complaints telling us that sitting for prolonged periods is literally killing people, and yet there seems to be no end of the sedentary lifestyle in sight. Worse, with more and more virtual offices and telecommuting options, people aren’t just working from chairs—they’re working from bed, reclined sofas, and basically giving their body zero support or exercise for the vast majority of the day.

Treadmill desks are nothing new, but they have yet to really catch on. Researchers took a look at short-term benefits of walking on a treadmill desk, peppering it in with simply standing at the desk (which is a requirement at some businesses in Japan already). The task? A simple reading assignment followed by attention and memory tests right after. It was found that those who read and finished the assignments while at a treadmill desk had better attention and memory.

 Get the Blood Pumping for Productivity

According to researchers, “This can be seen behaviorally, subjectively, and neurophysiologically,” when it comes to the benefits. “In addition to having health benefits for workers, (these desks) can also be beneficial for businesses by enhancing workforce performance.” Plus, healthy workers are simply less likely to get ill, which means better productivity and ROI for the business. In 2013, Merchant reported that “Sitting is the new smoking”, and that theory seems to get more support day after day.

People who sit more are more prone to diabetes, musculoskeletal pain, heart disease and ultimatel death. Those who sit more than eight hours per day, regardless of general health and fitness, are 15 percent more likely to die an earlier death than those who sit less than eight hours. For those who sit more than 11 hours per day, those odds go up to 40 percent.

Take a Hike!

In an ideal world, workers and entrepreneurs would get up and get active every 30-60 minutes, but that’s simply not reality. It’s easier and more tempting to watch a YouTube cat video rather than go for a brisk walk. The treadmill desk has been around since 1988, but it’s only been commercially manufactured since 2007. There have been some critics who claim that although there may be health benefits, treadmill desks can also negatively impact the deliverables of the employees.

However, the three studies which have utilized psychometric testing with treadmill desks (all in 2014) have revealed that “walking while working had no impact on these cognitive processes.” In other words, there seem to be no negative effects to treadmill desks.

In the most recent study’s reading task, the participants were charged with reading a long text while simultaneously getting emails—this mimics the kind of multi-tasking and distractions workers deal with on a regular basis. At the same time, they were told they had an important meeting with their boss in 40 minutes, and some of the emails were related to the meeting while others were not. The recall test asked a series of questions relating to the lengthy text.

In the end, those who walked performed better at both tasks. Think a treadmill desk is worth checking out? Make sure to get a highly reviewed model, do your research, and remember that the treadmill desk can’t help by osmosis. You actually need to use it to reap any benefits.