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.


Treadmill Desks are Better Than Standing Desks

Article referenced: MacEwen et al., “A systematic review of standing and treadmill desks in the workplace” Preventive Medicine , Volume 70, January 2015, Pages 50–58

Standing desks are often all the hype because they are relatively easy to set up in the workplace. I’ve noticed this myself after using both, that having a walking / treadmill desk is actually easier to use than a standing desk. And according to this study, treadmill desks are also significantly better for your health than a standing desk alone. It’s not the only study to come to that conclusion, and basically any study on basic exercise and physical activity will likely say the same. Moving increases circulation, which increases oxygen, which increases function. The brain in particular, when under higher oxygen conditions such as after exercising, is flooded in BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor). BDNF is almost like a miracle protein in that it helps to heal damage, prevent Alzheimers, make connections, and basically just do all sort of good things for the hippocampus and brain. (REFERENCE) This is why learning something new, like a different language, is more efficient in about the half hour after you’ve worked out and still have this high BDNF concentrations. So… back to the treadmill desk. If working out gives such good benefits for post workout studying, I maintain that if you keep a low level of exercise prolonged throughout your work, you may get some of the same effects. You won’t get that kind of benefit from standing desks alone because standing doesn’t work to increase circulation as much. Oh, and the paper I originally referenced also sums it up quite well: “Treadmill desks led to the greatest improvement in physiological outcomes including postprandial glucose, HDL cholesterol, and anthropometrics, while standing desk use was associated with few physiological changes.” Sorry standing desks, you’re awesome, but you’re not as awesome as a treadmill desk.

Regular exercise won’t save you from the effects of prolonged sitting.

Article reference: Biswas et al., “Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis”, Ann Intern Med. 2015;162(2):123-132. doi:10.7326/M14-1651

Exercise is good. Sitting is bad. We all kind of knew that already, but so long as we work in our daily exercise regimen, we’re fine, right? Not as much as we think, it turns out. A group at the University of Toronto has conducted a meta-analysis and concluded that “overall sedentary time, sitting time, television or screen time, or leisure time spent sitting” is independently correlated with higher risk for “all-cause mortality” defined as: “cardiovascular disease incidence or mortality, cancer incidence or mortality (breast, colon, colorectal, endometrial, and epithelial ovarian), and type 2 diabetes in adults”. The key word here is “independently”. That means that sedentary time, regardless of all other factors, contributes to an increased chance of mortality. That means that sitting is basically killing you, and you can’t prevent its effect, even if you exercise regularly. It’s not to say that exercising doesn’t do anything, in fact it’s still the activity that correlates the best with longevity. Exercise is still really good for you, it just doesn’t do anything for you while you’re sitting is all.