Treadmill desks may not only help employees burn calories while at work -- using them could also, over time, improve productivity, according to a new study, dousing fears that using the devices could be distracting and hard to work on.
Researchers from the University of Texas at Arlington, the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota found that treadmill workstation users burned 74 more calories a day, on average, than they did before using the devices.
And even though their work performance did take a hit immediately after transitioning from a typical cubicle desk to the treadmill desk, the employees' overall performance over the course of a year improved based on self ratings and supervisor ratings.
"Our study suggests that it is important to examine nonlinear effects over a relatively long period of time. Had we ignored nonlinearity or considered only discrete changes over arbitrary periods, we would have not estimated correctly the effects of treadmill workstations on physical activity and work performance," the researchers wrote in the PLOS ONE study. "Training in the use of treadmills for different tasks may shorten the adjustment and learning period, thus enhancing the positive effect of treadmill workstations."
The study included about 200 employees who worked at a nonprofit financial services company, all of whom had sedentary jobs that involved a lot of time spent in front of a computer. Some of the employees had their cubicles and offices installed with treadmill desks; they were permitted to use the treadmill desks, walking at speeds up to 2 miles per hour, as often as they wanted to (meaning they could choose to stand, sit or walk on the desks). They also wore accelerometers to track their energy expenditure.
"Walking on the treadmill didn't come at the expense of being a productive worker," study researcher Darla Hamann, assistant professor in the School of Urban and Public Affairs at UT Arlington, said in a statement. "Walking seemed to augment productivity."
Do you use a treadmill desk at your office? Would you try one? Check out this account of a workday spent using one.