Comment on Recent Articles Saying Treadmill Desks Are Not Effective.

Lots of articles have been published recently such as:

And so many others…

These are all examples of how people just want to make sensationalist articles that gets peoples’ attention instead of analyzing what something is actually saying.

The study they’re all referencing as being the harbinger of death for the treadmill desk is basically saying that if you barely use a treadmill desk, then you’re not going to see any benefits. Obvious, right? The study participants couldn’t stick to the regime and didn’t use the desk as much as the researchers asked (which wasn’t even that much). This is the same problem with people who go on diets or try to start any kind of health regimen. These people are looking for a quick fix, when in reality, you have to work hard to lose weight and be healthy. People don’t seem to understand that treadmill desks aren’t some magical machine that makes losing weight or being healthy easier, it simply provides a way for people to multitask their exercise while doing something productive in front of a computer. If you have the motivation to work out, then you can save some time by doing some of it while working. Sure, if you need to do photoshop work or are sensitive to distraction, then a treadmill may not be the best idea for you, but if you, like me, like watching movies at your computer, type blog posts, hell, even programming isn’t that bad, then a treadmill desk will allow you to get a workout and be productive at the same time. Frankly, I don’t even know why the university would design such an experiment, it seems so worthless to me. I could have told them before they spent all that time and money on the experiment that if you take a bunch of people, give them a piece of equipment, and then they don’t use it, yeah, that piece of equipment is probably not that effective. And as for the cost of a treadmill desk? They have expensive ones, but if you do even the tiniest amount of searching, you can find my blog with the treadmill desk I made for about $250 bucks. (A graduate student at the time, and I could afford that easily!) These articles and this “research” at OSU seem extremely questionable to me.

Optimal Treadmill Desk Usage

I just came across an article that mentions that ~1.4 miles per hour on a treadmill desk is the “optimal” speed for beneficial effects on memory and attention. (I go over it HERE). I also saw another article that says (if you don’t plan on exercising at all otherwise) that walking for ~40 miles a week is the optimal amount for cardiovascular health. This tells me that for the optimal health and memory effects of using a treadmill desk, I should be using it for about 4 hours every day walking at a pace of 1.4 miles per hour. If I can do that, then I apparently won’t gain any additional cardiovascular or memory benefits. There are lots of confounding factors and caveats (I mention many of them in my analysis of these articles, linked to above.) But I think this kind of gives a general number and range to shoot for.

Mini Analysis: The delayed effect of treadmill desk usage on recall and attention

I found this this research article and thought I’d share. The researchers were basically testing the ability of people to recall information they were reading while on a treadmill desk vs sitting. (I’d be interested in seeing how it compares with standing too, but oh well.) This study was looking at attention and memory tasks in particular. They found that these recall tasks were done better by people who used a treadmill desk. This type of information is interesting, since that may mean you may be able to learn a language better (memory task) or do something boring (attention task) better while using a treadmill desk. How much better?

Recall Figure

Something like 34.9% higher for recall and “significantly higher” for attention tasks. Anyways, I don’t feel like trying to back calculate a percentage right now, but suffice it to say, they found it to be a significant improvement.

Other websites (Like Co.EXIST) have been reporting titles on this research paper like “Treadmill Desks Aren’t Just Healthier, They’ll Also Boost Your Work Performance” Their sensationalist approach to reporting basically glosses over a very important point that even the article they are referencing mentions. Basically other types of tasks studied by different researchers suggest that using a treadmill may actually be worse for your particular task. WORSE. The article mentions that walking had either neutral or deleterious effects on cognitive and work abilities. Their conclusion is that each task should be studied independently and that more studies are needed to see if high level thinking tasks are affected positively or negatively. Stay skeptical, but take the information for what it is. For example, if memory tasks do indeed improve while walking, then why not use a treadmill desk while learning a new instrument, memorizing a piano song, learning a new language, etc…?  Something to think about.



Intense Exercise Is Not So Good For You; What Does That Say About Treadmill Desks?

I just came across this article that is describing extreme exercise as almost as bad for you as not exercising at all (or worse!). After reading this, I wanted to explore how this may relate to using a treadmill desk for an extended period of time. I tracked down the actual research article (oddly enough, the “lay man” article didn’t provide a reference, so I had to track it down.)

Part 1: Potential Dangers of Extreme Endurance Exercise: How Much Is Too Much? Part 2: Screening of School-Age Athletes, January–February 2015, Pages 396–405

The take home message from the research article is summed up in this figure:

Full-size image (35 K)

Basically, it says that light and moderate jogging is good for you (lower hazard ratio) and that strenuous jogging is basically bad for you and is much worse than not doing anything. The paper also says that “maximal benefits” of exercise was when you are “walking 35 to 45 miles per week” (or running 20 to 30 miles). That’s walking about 5.7 miles a day. At the approximately “optimal” 1.6 miles per hour walking pace, that’s between 3-4 hours of treadmill desk usage each day to have the best cardiovascular health. That’s actually pretty awesome, considering that’s “optimal”. Like… you could exercise more, but it would actually hurt your cardiovascular health. That’s something to think about huh? Then again, what are the confounding factors? This is only cardiovascular health and doesn’t measure other diseases that can be reduced or prevented with additional exercise (like cancer, Alzheimers, dementia, etc…). Additionally, there may be other habits that “extreme” exercisers do, like maybe they feel like they can eat worse because they exercise a lot. Perhaps they exercise a lot because they want to be able to eat more, and perhaps excess calories, like the opposite of caloric restriction, has effects that this study hasn’t looked at.