An entire industry has evolved to provide antidotes to sedentary work habits with the promise of work and exercise at the same time. Many are allured by the standing desks, exercise balls, treadmill desks, and bicycle desks. In fact, companies and individuals globally spent an estimated $119 million in 2022 on treadmill desks alone, according to Imarc Research.1
As a business development manager, you may be receiving a multitude of requests for activity-inducing workstations. Here’s what you need to know before succumbing to the craze.
Work-out-while-working devices promise to induce movement, burn calories, improve cardio-vascular health, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases associated with a sedentary lifestyle. But, treadmill, cycling, and elliptical desks come with a lot of hype and no small risk. “A distracted user could be conveyed right off the end of the treadmill, or trip and fall if side rails and auto-pause features are not in place,” says Thomas Neale, AVP Workers' Compensation Senior Specialist at Chubb Risk Engineering. There is also the question of distracting coworkers with the movement and noise of a large piece of equipment in the office. Equipment that encourages or requires constant movement, such as treadmill or cycling desks, may not be conducive to many types of work.
Compared to traditional desks, there is evidence they also reduce the ability to perform work-related tasks.2 Finding a comfortable, ergonomic position to work on such equipment can be a challenge as well. One study found that people working at a treadmill workstation experienced lower cognitive and fine motor skill performance, such as keyboarding and mouse pointing, compared to workers who were seated.3 So, while you think you are being healthy, your boss may be less than enthused about the work you are producing.
That is why some offices will offer a few active workstations in common areas for workers to try for short periods, rather than putting one under every desk. “Much of this equipment is great for what it was designed for: fitness and therapy. But no one needs to work their core for eight hours a day,” says Neale. There are safer, less expensive and healthier options to help workers move — and still work effectively.
One option with documented benefits is an ergonomically designed adjustable desk that allows users to sit or stand, changing positions throughout the day. A recent meta study discovered that a wide range of interventions designed to reduce sitting time — including changes in workplace design to encourage movement such as treadmill desks and walking meetings — only the sit-and-stand desk was effective in reducing sitting time and increasing standing time.4
Everyone needs a break once in a while. Desk workers are commonly advised to follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break, look 20 feet away or close your eyes. That advice can give one’s eyes a rest, but it is not enough to offset some of the physiological problems that come from prolonged sitting.
One recent study discovered that five minutes of walking every half hour can alleviate some of the risk that comes from sitting for long stretches. Even an “activity snack” of one minute per hour reduced blood pressure for those who participated in the study.7 There is consistent evidence that moderate exercise — including doing the laundry or washing the dishes — can help moderate the inflammation that provokes chronic health problems. An analysis of almost 5000 Americans over several years found that people who broke up their sitting time with frequent short breaks experienced as much as 25% less inflammation than those who rarely rose from their chairs, even if they sat the same number of hours.8 One explanation is that any activity that wakes up muscles can help hold down levels of blood sugar and fat.
Employers can help their employees by providing proper equipment as well as educating and encouraging healthy choices and work styles.
Want to know more? Contact Chubb to learn how your company can assess different devices, techniques and training to help your employees work their best.
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