Workout at Work: Why Sitting Isn’t an Option

workout at work, treadmill desk, bike desk

Workout at work with this swanky treadmill

When I have five clients come in and mention the same study, I know it's hit a nerve. That's just what happened this past week with people talking about working out at work. Standing, treadmill desks, and even biking are starting to become the norm while sitting slumped in that office chair, no matter how ergonomic it is, is out.

Treadmill Desks at Work

The trend started a couple of years ago with the introduction of treadmill desks. These are designed to have a top speed of no more than two miles per hour and most people use them at half that speed. It's definitely not enough to be a true workout or cause you to break a sweat and make your co-workers unhappy to sit next to you at a meeting. That's not the point. The idea is to get you up and moving in a way that let's you work, but doesn't let you slump.  The results when introduced at companies? They've pretty much been a universal hit. Co-workers have been creating sign-up sheets to reserve their turn at these workstations and big companies are investing more and more in them. They boost morale, boost productivity, and decrease sick days ... all very good things to a company's bottom line. Treadmill desks can be a bit pricey though, starting at $400 for very basic models and going all the way up to $4,000. These are built specifically with belts and motors geared for slower speeds. If you're investing in something you're going to spend as much as 8 hours a day on, you should pick out a good one, but people are missing out on one obvious alternate solution.

Standing at Work

Just stand up. Yep, as I type this I am at a piece of furniture in my living room that is the perfect height for me. It's an old thread chest from a mill town in Massachusetts, but for this 5'7" gal my hands are positioned perfectly over the keyboard. I'm also holding my abs in a little, my shoulders are down, and I've got a lot less tension in my lower back than I do when I'm sitting. Your office at home or work might not be able to accommodate or afford a fancy treadmill, but getting a standing desk at the right height for you is easy. I've seen adjustable height table/desks at IKEA that cost a little more than $100.

Bicycling at Work

Maybe standing or walking makes sense to you. It's not that hard and you're in an upright position, which lines you up well with the work you have to do. But biking at work?  Sure ... certainly not all tasks are conducive, but phone calls, reading, even having a meeting all work just fine. My iPad fits perfectly on the handle bars of my stationary bike and I frequently tweet and check email while I'm on it.  It's also a very compact footprint which can make sense for a less-than-spacious office.

The Best Way to Workout at Work

So how are you going to actually do it? Are you going to stand all day? What about those heels that you love? Will you have to ditch them? Well, yes to the heels; you don't want to walk on a treadmill, stand, or bike with 2" propping up your heel. That's a great way to throw your back out, shorten your calf muscles, and cause damage to your feet, knees, and hips. Once you get the footwear down, timing is the next important thing. You want to be sure and stand up every hour for at least a few minutes. Say 10 minutes to get used to the idea. After that, start adding on a few minutes at a time until you find yourself mostly standing/walking/peddling. The problem, according to the New York Times, is
the production of enzymes that burn fat in the body declines by as much as 90 percent. Extended sitting, they add, slows the body’s metabolism of glucose and lowers the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol in the blood. Those are risk factors toward developing heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
There are a handful of choices for how you can workout at work. You should pick the option that works best for you. Maybe standing kills your knees, but you're fine walking. Or vice versa. Maybe being at a standing desk for hours a day feels amazingly good or maybe just a few minutes an hour is enough to keep you happy. Be open to all options while you're sorting it out. Have you used a standing or treadmill desk? What about an exercise bike? In short, do you workout at work? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Do you want to start if you haven't? By the way, here's a portable desk for exercise bikes that I tried. It worked well for a while, but I did eventually switch to just standing at my thread cabinet and checking emails on my Spin bike with my iPad. Cheers, Lisa  

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.

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5 Responses to Workout at Work: Why Sitting Isn’t an Option

  1. Nick December 10, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

    I can see the sense in standing, but if you add exercise into the equation when you’re trying to concentrate on something important, won’t this hinder your performance? I can just see the productivity of an office slumping if everyone starts walking while they’re writing a report for their supervisor, or whatever else.

    I may be wrong, but I guess I don’t think that one should overlap such activities, e.g. work hard, play hard (but I think exercise even harder would be a great addition..). What do you think?

  2. Lisa Johnson December 10, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    Hi Nick,

    That was definitely a concern when this stuff started coming out. What they’re finding is the opposite, productivity is increasing. This is not a workout … this is simply not being sedentary there’s definitely a difference. :-) You still need to get your workouts in.

  3. Janet Oberholtzer December 11, 2012 at 7:02 am #

    I’ve had a treadmill desk for about a year now and love it. And I’ve found if I walk about 1.8 mph, I can do almost everything on it as quickly as I would sitting, and sometimes even faster, because my brain seems to work best when my body is in motion. The one thing I don’t like doing on it is designing something, like a flyer, or other promo piece.

  4. Chris Wix December 12, 2012 at 11:45 pm #

    I stumbled on the exercise at work thing about a year and a half ago. I thought it would be hard to work and exercise. But luckily I was wrong. My productivity is fine. and even better the exercise bike I use (FitDesk) has been quiet, comfortable and just easy to use. I actually miss it when I am on the road.
    These are great topics that people need to know about. Nice to find this one. Good job Lisa. Will be glad to check back here often.

  5. Lisa Johnson December 13, 2012 at 7:11 am #

    Thanks Chris :-)

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