Four things can be said to typically define the modern rat race: A desk, a computer, a chair, and an utter lack of exercise.
This could soon change. That is, if treadmill desks can grow from being novel, into a useful tool for getting fit.
As its name suggests, a treadmill desk is a contraption that combines a treadmill with – you guessed it – a work desk. You stand and walk on the treadmill, while a tall desk lets you type, write or make business calls – on the go.
The idea is it lets you walk calories away, while you bang away at your computer.
But does it, really?
Fab or fad?
In the United States, where treadmill desks have slowly been gaining pace since their health benefits were revealed by a Mayo Clinic study in 2005, manufacturers claim the exercise goes beyond keeping fit and losing weight.
According to them, these combo desks boost mental health, increasing blood flow to the brain, while raising focus, productivity and even creativity.
Jennifer Liaw, senior principal physiotherapist and chief, Ergonomics and Work Rehabilitation, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), thinks the new office workout may just, well, work out.
“Depending on the nature of the task, treadmill desks can be a great way for office workers to keep fit,” she says. “You can easily read or gather information from your computer while working out on the mill.”
Lawrence Ong, senior physiotherapist at SGH, concurs. “Given that most of us have jobs that are sedentary in nature, treadmill desks may be useful to get us more actively involved in taking steps, literally, to manage our health. Even while we’re at work.”
He cites the exercise as a good strategy to help those at risk of, or who already have, high cholesterol, diabetes or heart conditions.
“Besides, it’ll help keep office workers on their toes,” he quips. “Especially after lunch.”
Not a walkaway success
Not everyone’s convinced, though.
SGH senior physiotherapist Liang Zhiqi concedes that while treadmill desks may help increase the activity levels of sedentary individuals, the exercise isn’t of sufficient intensity to reap cardiovascular or strengthening benefits.
Her colleague, Seet Jia Hui Felicia, senior physiotherapist at the Outpatients Physiotherapy and Service Improvement, SGH, agrees.
In fact, she sees working out at work as a bad idea. Particularly when it comes to our mental well-being.
“Exercise should be treated as a holistic approach,” she explains. “More than a physical workout, it is meant to reduce stress and anxiety – a time away from work.”
“If we exercise while working, the mental benefits of it will be lost.”
Not for everyone
Yet, for all the arguments for or against treadmill desks, practicalities still rule.
According to SGH physiotherapist Lian Guo Jie, working on the treadmill requires a higher level of concentration than sitting. He believes it is impossible to work the treadmill desk at an intensity that is sufficient for good cardiovascular health, while still being focused on work.
“When you need to keep up with work quality, it becomes clear that not all sedentary occupations are suitable for such a set-up,” he says.
While generally in favour of this novel idea to squeeze exercise into work time, Ms Liaw wouldn’t recommend treadmill desks for all offices.
She explains: “Office workers whose work involves a higher level of concentration and longer periods on the keyboard and mouse may find walking on the treadmill disruptive, even counter-productive.”
A basic walkthrough
For those who are still considering giving treadmill desks a go, first read these tips from Ms Liaw:
- If you have medical conditions such as diabetes, heart problems, back pain, past lower limb injuries and neurological conditions which may be aggravated by strenuous physical activity, or result in accidents on the treadmill, please consult your doctor before stepping onto the treadmill.
- Wear a good, comfortable pair of walking shoes with ample feet support.
- Get used to walking on a conventional treadmill first before working on it. Walk for 10-15 minutes at a comfortable speed for a few days. Once you’re comfortable, try reading while walking on the treadmill.
- Even when you get used to working on the treadmill desk, always warm up by walking on it for a few minutes first, before starting work on it.
- Take a break after walking for 30-45 minutes to rest your back and lower limbs.
- Always walk at a comfortable speed that will allow you to work productively.
- Depending on the nature of your work, you may not want to work on the treadmill desk continuously.
- Adjust the top of your computer screen to eye level to reduce the strain on your neck.
- Adjust the height of your keyboard so your forearms rest comfortably on the desk with elbows bent at 90 degrees on either side of the trunk.
- Drink and eat sufficiently before and while working out.
- Immediately stop work on your treadmill desk if you are not feeling well. Seek medical help if required.
Article contributed by Dept of Physiotherapy at:
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