A sedentary lifestyle has been tied to all sorts of health risks, including cancer, heart disease, and all-cause mortality. In fact, it’s no wonder some have coined the phrase “sitting is the new smoking.”
In the global quest to make a sedentary workday more active, standing desks hit the scene years ago. Now, the concept of an active workday goes a step further (literally) with treadmill desks. This innovative solution allows you to walk at any pace while taking conference calls, sending emails, or performing research on your computer—essentially, anything you would do at a traditional desk.
If you’re thinking about investing in a treadmill desk, get familiar with the pros and cons, best practices, and setup. Below, we walk you through everything you should consider when buying and using a treadmill desk.
What Is a Treadmill Desk?
Treadmill desks come in various formats, but all have one thing in common—they allow you to walk in place while using a desk. Classic treadmill desks feature a moving belt attached to the bottom of a desk that’s elevated to standing height.
Some desks can be folded and unfolded into two positions (much like a folding table). One position offers an elevated desk; the other contains a desk flattened to the floor and attached to the end of the treadmill. Other products—technically walking pads, not treadmill desks—are flat, free-standing motorized belts that slide underneath a desk for easy storage.
Unlike regular desks, treadmill desks don’t offer a wide variety of extras, such as multiple drawers or materials. (We’ve yet to see a mahogany roll-top treadmill desk.) That said, many desks feature numerous adjustment options to customize your experience.
Why Consider a Treadmill Desk?
If you work a desk job, why not consider a treadmill desk? When used consistently, this handy piece of machinery can vastly increase your daily step count. Research shows that reaching the much-touted 10,000 daily steps is associated with lower rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease, as well as less risk of dying from these causes.
Using a treadmill desk might also lead to weight loss. A 2021 study concluded that these desks increased the number of calories people burned throughout the day. If nothing else, walking as you work gets your blood pumping, which could increase your focus and help boost productivity and energy levels.
Is a Treadmill Desk Worth It? Factors to Consider
Unless you received the desk as a gift or snagged a deal on Craigslist, these pieces of office equipment are likely to be a major purchase. As you consider whether it’s worth it for you, take stock of these factors:
- Cost: Treadmill desks run anywhere from around $200 to $3,000. Research which options offer the features you want for the price you need.
- Usage: Before buying this type of desk ask yourself if you are truly committed to using a treadmill desk. Or, will it likely become an unused behemoth in your home? Answering this question will help you make the best decision.
- Optionality: Consider whether the desk you’re looking at allows you to sit down and how fast it encourages you to walk. Also, look to see if the treadmill portion is removable. Having options can make or break your experience.
- Space: Not everyone has room for a full-sized treadmill in their workspace. Be sure to measure the spot where you’re considering placing a treadmill desk and purchase one that fits.
Step-by-Step Guide to Setting Up a Treadmill Desk
Once your treadmill desk arrives and you’ve hauled its parts out of the box, it’s always best to follow the printed directions that come with your chosen desk. But, in general, the steps below will take you from a jumble of metal and wood to a functioning, activity-promoting workspace.
- Double-check that the desk’s dimensions fit in your space and through your doorway. If the desk is too big to fit through the doorway, assemble it in the room where it will live.
- Gather all of the tools needed, and read through the instructions thoroughly before beginning.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for assembling the desk and treadmill.
- Position the treadmill under the desk at an angle that’s comfortable for you. (Try it before finalizing.)
- Follow the instructions for attaching the treadmill portion to the desk portion, if applicable.
- Place any treadmill controls where you can easily reach them while standing at the desk.
- Plug in the treadmill and try it on a very slow speed to test its functionality and feel.
How to Use a Treadmill Desk: Tips and Best Practices
Like any piece of new exercise equipment, a treadmill desk may require some trial and error. If you’re new to standing desks in general, try standing on the treadmill without movement for the first few days, then gradually add a slow walking pace.
To begin, spend some time just walking—not focusing on work—to acclimate yourself to the feel of the treadmill. Don’t forget, too, that ergonomics matter for making the most of your walking desk. Create a work setup that allows your computer screen to sit at eye level and a keyboard that keeps your elbows at approximately a 90-degree angle.
If you feel faint, overly fatigued, or like your knees are locking, don’t hesitate to take breaks from walking. After all, using a treadmill desk is a simple way to add movement to your day. It is not meant to exhaust you.
Precautions and Potential Risks
There’s always a risk of a trip or a fall when you have a moving belt beneath your feet. These risks are especially true when you’re distracted by work matters. A treadmill desk requires some mindful intention to prevent injury. Again, start slow, giving yourself time to adjust to the rhythm of walking as you work.
Likewise, if you have joint pain, knee pain, back problems, chronic fatigue, or other health conditions that affect your ability to stand, walk, or run for lengthy stretches, a treadmill desk may not be the best option. Talk to a healthcare provider before purchasing a treadmill desk. They can let you know if it is right for you.
For anyone looking to boost activity and productivity during the workday, a treadmill desk is an excellent tool. Consider it an investment in both your home office and your home gym, especially if you work from home. And if you work in an office, you may inspire others toward greater workplace wellness.
Park JH, Moon JH, Kim HJ, Kong MH, Oh YH. Sedentary lifestyle: Overview of updated evidence of potential health risks. Korean J Fam Med. 2020;41(6):365-373. doi:10.4082/kjfm.20.0165
del Pozo Cruz B, Ahmadi MN, Lee IM, Stamatakis E. Prospective associations of daily step counts and intensity with cancer and cardiovascular disease incidence and mortality and all-cause mortality. JAMA Intern Med. 2022;182(11):1139. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2022.4000
Oye-Somefun A, Azizi Z, Ardern CI, Rotondi MA. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of treadmill desks on energy expenditure, sitting time, and cardiometabolic health in adults. BMC Public Health. 2021;21(1):2082. doi:10.1186/s12889-021-12094-9
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