An assistant professor of exercise and sports science in the College of Public Health and Human Services at Oregon State University made headlines yesterday proclaiming the results of a study that show “treadmill desks offer limited benefits and pose a challenge in the workplace.” Our response? You might want to read a little more about the actual study before making up your mind.

 

In the interest of full disclosure, we here at TrekDesk are biased. We want to be very up front about that. We believe staying upright and moving throughout the day is much more beneficial to the body than staying cramped in a cubicle all day. It’s not really an opinion based on anecdotal evidence or mere common sense - it is a scientific fact based on hundreds of research projects done at such places as Iowa State, Yale, UCLA, Harvard, Stanford, LSU, ASU, Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic – we could on listing but you get the idea.

 

 

Apparently though John Schuna disagrees. No problem John, we appreciate the debate but we think your study was too small and too skewed to begin with. We are on your side in this though and don’t want to sound snarky in anyway. We are used to treadmill desk naysayers. We encourage the debate because this is a necessary step in changing the way we all view sedentary environments and how we should go about evaluating ways to defeat them.

 

We are used to the debate. Men’s Health once said our TrekDesk would be out of fashion in 6 months and compared us to Suzanne Sommer’s ThighMaster. Years later TrekDesk and a mix of other cool treadmill desks are still going strong. Utah senator Orrin Hatch got into a twitter debate with us saying he preferred sidewalks and saw the entire concept as a waste of money. Orrin forgets that in poor areas there are no sidewalks and while he gets to roam the halls of a dysfunctional congress the rest of us are cramped in office pens.

 

 

One writer at the WSJ actually stooped so low as to try and talk some TrekDesk users into saying they felt unsafe and sweaty using our product for an article she was writing – they didn’t bite. The writer never responded back to our emails asking for a review of actual facts and experiences of treadmill desk users.

 

Treadmill Desk Skewed Data Draws Wrong Conclusion

 

Our point is that we are used to skeptics, even those with hidden agendas designed to derail the entire concept. John Schuna is not one of them but he did conduct a study with blinders on in our opinion.

 

Let’s take a look at what he said.

 

John’s 12 week study found that treadmill desks offered limited benefits to obese employees and “did not help them meet public health guidelines for daily exercise.” The study focused on overweight and obese office workers and found that although they increased steps on average 1,000 steps per day they did not record significant weight loss or changes in BMI during the 12 weeks.

 

First bias. Overweight/obese employees need more exercise than thin employees. We all need to get up and move more, not just obese or overweight employees. This study singled out employees based on weight and BMI factors. Height weight proportionate employees suffer higher risks of disease from inactivity as well as overweight employees.

 

Second bias: BMI reduction and weight loss is the critical gauge of health benefits. Movement improves memory and creativity, lowers blood pressure and lipid profiles, balances blood sugars, boosts mood and productivity, prevents disease, disperses critical elements in the brain and body necessary for health (e.g. lipase lipoproteins, BDNF, dopamine) and combined with proper lifestyle changes can lead to that media darling known as weight loss. That’s just a few things staying in motion does for one’s health, so when did BMI and weight loss become the end all determining factor for health?

 

Third bias: The overweight/obese employees only used the treadmill desk half the time they were asked to. Well golly, let’s single out the fat folks and make them wear a scarlet T on their shirt and see how often they volunteer to use the treadmill desk. This is one of the more disturbing parts of the study results in our opinion. It sent the message that if you are fat you need to move but if you are thin you are just fine the way you are in that office chair. We are sure this was not Mr. Schuna’s intent but what did he expect. Every time they stepped on that treadmill desk it was a reminder why they were doing it. Did everyone assume no one would notice only the BMI challenged were invited to the party?

 

Fourth Bias: There is only one kind of exercise, low intensity doesn’t count. We aren’t arguing that Americans don’t need their 30 minutes of moderate to high intensity exercise at least 5x per week (in fact we think that is on the low side) but what is everyone supposed to do after they achieve that? Sit and gloat? We already have studies showing sitting counteracts all of the good that those 30 minutes might have imparted and rather quickly.

 

Our bodies were designed to stay in motion and we need low intensity, moderate intensity and high intensity throughout the day. Most experts now agree that the low intensity needs to comprise the largest part of our day. Just ask the folks at the Pennington Biomedical Center for Research how long it takes for bad things to start in the body when we sit. Hint: It is less than 20 minutes.

 

Fifth Bias: Mr. Schuna stated “the benefits of the desks may not justify the cost and other challenges that come with implementing them.” This study did not involve any measure of productivity and/or boosts in concentration or decrease in absenteeism/presenteeism so how then can this study make any scientific claim as to cost justification? Again they measured it against the sole BMI/Weight Loss barometer that plagues so many overweight employees. Keep in mind that almost 70% of our entire workforce now fits this category.

 

Sixth Bias: “Introducing treadmill desks in the workplace also can pose logistical challenges that may not make a program feasible for companies.” It’s been our experience that this is what companies tell their employees who are clamoring for treadmill desks. Sure, cost is a factor initially but not when weighed against increases in productivity/creativity, decreases in work related losses (absenteeism, presenteeism, back injuries from sitting), and overall health care savings.

 

 

The Oregon State study has in our estimation provided only biased anecdotal evidence that if you implement a limited scale trial of treadmill desks and target only overweight employees that it is more than likely going to fail -if measured only by stringent, skeptically relevant guidelines for success.

 

We do agree with Mr. Schuna’s last statement in his interview posted on Oregonstate.edu. however: “We need to identify some form of physical activity that can be done simply and at a low cost in an office setting.”

 

It’s called a treadmill desk, and if you weigh all of the factors scientifically- the facts, along with the ROI, speak for themselves.

 

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