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Study: Treadmill Desks Improve Productivity, Creativity At Work

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(credit: CBS) Angela Davis
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Many of us have jobs that keep us sitting at desks for most of the day. But what if you could work at your desk and be active at the same time?

The University of Minnesota just released the findings of a study that looked at the benefits of treadmill desks. Employees at Salo in Minneapolis have been using them for years.

The maximum speed is slow — just two miles per hour, but researchers have found the benefits of walking while you work are huge.

Researchers at the Carlson School of Management at the U spent a year looking at what happened when 40 workers at a Twin Cities financial services company had their offices refitted with treadmills in front of their desks.

During that year, they surveyed the workers and their supervisors, and discovered productivity was increased, as well as creativity.

Could the key to better work performance be more physical activity during the work day? That’s what the study indicates.

Dr. Avner Ben-Ner is one of the researchers who worked on the study and the lead author.

“You get more blood flow to the brain, and if you use your brain, you get an advantage from that. If you are slumped in your chair, you don’t get as much benefit from your brain,” he said.

Dr. Ben-Ner said being sedentary for most of the day can make it harder for some people to do their best work. So for employers, he says it may be worth the expense to upgrade to treadmill desks.

“But even if you have only 2-percent, 3-percent, 4-percent increase in productivity, associated with walking while working, that will wipe out the cost of the treadmills in a year,” he said.

Salo is a finance, accounting and human resources staffing firm in downtown Minneapolis.

The study’s findings reinforce what they’ve already seen.

Six years ago, they created a work station with six treadmill desks in the center of the room.

“I have long legs so I do the max, 2 mph, and I am not breaking a sweat at all. So it is just a steady pace, but you certainly do feel it,” said CEO Denise Doll-Kiefer.

For meetings, they traded the traditional conference room for a room with four treadmills facing one another. This is where they solve problems.

“Every time we are sort of stuck on something, we get up and move. And when you get up and move, we found more ideas just pop,” said Amy Langer, Salo’s co-founder.

A few more details about study’s findings — the workers involved burned about 8 percent more calories each day than they normally would.

And as for productivity, their managers concluded that on a scale of one to ten, they increased their performance by about a point.

The cost of buying a treadmill desk, obviously ranges, but some say it’s between $1,000 and $4,000. Even desks that you simply stand in front of instead of sitting down at are an improvement too, according to Ben-Ner.

He said you burn more calories standing than sitting because you are lifting your own weight, and it also improves blood flow compared to being slumped in that chair.

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