As the popularity of standing desks increases in corporate offices, treadmill and elliptical desks are following suit. These new active workstations can add a lot of movement to an otherwise sedentary job. Previous studies have shown that standing boosts productivity but lacked any evidence demonstrating health benefits. Would extra steps logged at a treadmill desk prove superior to standing? Two new studies look at the impact of these new active workstations on employee job performance as well as cognitive functions.
Multitasking: Thinking And Walking
Although there is limited research on this topic, it seems that motor skills like typing speed and mouse usage were slightly impaired by walking on the treadmill. However, Brandon Alderman, Vice Chair of Kinesiology and Health at Rutgers University, examined the effects of walking on active an workstation on cognitive performance and showed that an important skill, the ability to think clearly, is not interfered by being on active workstations.
Alderman tested participants on tasks like resisting distraction, multitasking, the ability to hold multiple concepts, and planning ability. Overall, all of these tasks except for planning were not hindered by walking on the treadmills. Middle-aged adult participants took slightly longer to plan for more challenging tasks when they walked compared to when they sat. The tradeoff for this planning difficulty? Participants sneaked in about 4,500 extra steps that they otherwise wouldn’t have. This is approximately the number of steps an average American takes in a day.
This boost in activity translates to an additional 100 calories expended per hour. Given the fact that using active workstations is not an all-or-nothing matter, and that workers can coordinate their tasks between walking and sitting sessions, the benefits of providing active workstations seem to outweigh the risks.
Added Benefits: Boosted Attention And Memory
After Alderman’s study, other researchers have dove deeper into the topic. One notable study was an investigation into the cognitive benefits of walking while working, conducted by French researcher, Elise Labonte-LeMoyne. The result showed a delayed increase in short-term memory and attention after participants completed their walking sessions. This is supported by behavioral, neurophysiological (EEG) testing, and perceptual (survey) data. While the sample size was small and the investigator acknowledged that more testing is needed on a larger, more diverse group, data from this study suggests that providing treadmill desks and encouraging employees to stay active during the workday will enhance employees’ cognitive functioning.
While further research is needed to more definitively link physical health benefits to treadmill desk use, it is hard to imagine how an extra 5,000 steps a day would not make a welcomed improvement to the health of those working in an office setting.