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Walk While You Work

A treadmill desk can help take the drudgery out of the daily grind.

We need to deliver some bad news. Are you sitting down?

Actually, that’s the problem. Studies link sitting all day on your posterior—the way you likely work every day—to numerous ailments, including cardiovascular disease, deep-vein throm­bosis, diabetes, back pain and obesity. But what’s the alternative when e-mails, calls and meetings keep your nose to the grindstone and your rear in a chair?

Enter the treadmill desk. With a treadmill on the floor and a raised desk, seated tasks such as reading, typing and making phone calls become walking tasks. You avoid the health hazards of too much sitting while doubling, or even tripling, the number of calories you burn.

“I feel better, have more energy, get more done at work and avoid the afternoon slump,” says Nikki Raedeke, a treadmill-desk user who is director of the dietetics program at the University of Missouri. She has also lost 20 pounds since getting the machine.

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When I tried out a few treadmill desks, my perfect speed was 1.5 miles per hour. At that rate, I could type without errors and read without dizziness. The exertion left me feeling flushed—it’s a good idea to keep a water bottle on hand—but not sweaty or exhausted. My handwriting was legible but didn’t always land between the lines on my reporter’s notebook.

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The most surprising discovery was how effortlessly the miles floated by. After a few phone conversations and some reading one morning, I’d logged a half-mile and burned 50 calories. Some treadmill-desk users can glide through six or seven miles before heading home for dinner.

Will your boss go along? Not all employers will agree to allocate the funds for such an unconventional way of working. And in a cubicle-intensive environment, space is an issue.

It’s easier if you have your own office, and even easier if you bring your own equipment. When Chase Poffenberger, an executive vice-president of a travel company, wanted to install a treadmill desk in her office, she got the blessing of her business partners and paid for the setup herself. She bought the TrekDesk, a $497 U-shaped steel workspace, which rests on top of an Exerpeutic treadmill she picked up for a couple hundred dollars at Target. The setup is functional, although it takes up quite a bit of space in her midsize office.

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“I’d suggest buying a shared treadmill desk and see how many staff use it,” says Poffenberger. A model that’s built to stand up to the demands of the workplace costs between $1,500 and $5,000.

It couldn’t hurt to stress the benefits to your employer. (You’ll find links to dozens of articles touting the health care savings at www.trekdesk.com/costfinancial.) Plus, there may be perks that come from making your workplace healthier and fitter, including decreased absenteeism and increased productivity.

Got a home office? Using a home-gym treadmill with a separate desk is a good way to test-drive the treadmill-desk work style. But if you decide to buy in for the long haul, you’re better off with a dedicated model. Regular treadmills are built for shorter bursts of activity, while office treadmills are designed for the long, slow grind.

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One relatively affordable option is LifeSpan’s TR1200-DT5 treadmill desk, which costs $1,500 for the whole package. The rectangular desktop and handrail-free treadmill look sleek and professional. The console displays on the inside of the desk show time, distance, calories and steps taken. That means no reaching over your computer to check your mileage or adjust the speed.

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You’ll save money if you supply your own desk, perhaps modifying one you already have. For example, the Life­Span TR800-DT3 treadmill, which is designed for three hours of use per day, comes without a desk and retails for $800. It has an easy-to-see display console that sits on your desktop.

Standing desks. Poffenberger’s treadmill desk has inspired her space-deprived, cubicle-bound co-workers to start using standing desks. Standing desks help combat the health hazards of sitting for less than the investment in a treadmill desk. Poffenberger’s company pays for workstation modifications, such as raised keyboard trays and adjustable monitor mounts, that can be used with a standing desk.

There are dozens of options, from the non-height-adjustable Altra Bobbi Standing Craft Desk ($130 at Staples) to Steelcase’s $1,400 Airtouch desk, which goes from sitting to standing height in one second. The hands-down cheapest option is rigging up your own. Search “DIY standing desk” online and on YouTube for tutorials using everything from Ikea parts to PVC piping and furniture crates.

An anti-fatigue mat to accompany a standing desk will help keep your feet and legs feeling fresh. They sell for as little as $20 at Home Depot.

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