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September 27, 2006

Treadmill Office Hits MSM Big-Time — Angela Leitner takes it to the next level


That would be onto the front page of the Daily Life section of yesterday's St. Paul Pioneer Press.

In living color above the fold, no less.

Dr. James Levine at the Mayo Clinic, Tom Niccum (grand panjandrum of the world's best online treadmill-workspace-related resource — Walking While Working) and I could've beaten our bandwagon drums till we were brain-dead but it took 29-year-old Angela Leitner (above, hard at work while striding along on her spiffy new office treadmill) of Mendota Heights, Minnesota to light this firecracker.

Rhoda Fukushima's Pioneer Press article follows.

Full disclosure: Ms. Fukushima interviewed me via telephone as part of her research.


No animals were harmed while we chatted.

But I digress.

    Work That Moves Them

    Some employees find walk-working, which includes a treadmill at the work station, energizes them

    Over the years, Angela Leitner's lower-back pain got so bad she could sit for only 30 minutes at a time. She had tried everything from steroid injections to physical therapy, but nothing worked. Her doctor told her she could have spinal fusion, but it would mean the end of an active lifestyle that once included running.

    Leitner, 29, had another idea. She went for a walk.

    Leitner, a clinical researcher from Mendota Heights, persuaded her employer to let her put a treadmill in her office, outfit it with a computer and walk while she works. She has joined a growing group of like-minded people who've learned the little movements do add up — even at the office.

    "It's buzzing, interest is unbelievable," says James Levine, the Mayo Clinic endocrinologist who is a force behind the walk-working effort.

    No wonder. Walk-working and other movements tied to daily activities have been shown to be physically beneficial and have even been given a formal name — nonexercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT for short.

    In a 2005 study published in Science, Levine and his colleagues found NEAT activities are more effective at achieving a healthy body weight than organized exercise. In the study, he found thin people move 150 minutes more each day than couch potatoes, which adds up to another 350 calories burned.

    Virginia anesthesiologist Joseph Stirt studies the research, bought a $900 treadmill and set about creating a functional desk. His desk is decidedly low-rent; he spent $26 for the setup, which consists of empty boxes, bungee cords, Styrofoam and four tubs. He says he's on the treadmill eight to 10 hours daily, at 0.7 miles per hour, and has lost about 10 pounds.

    "It's addictive. It's so pleasant," Stirt says. "Moving at this very slow speed is such a relaxing pace that when you're forced to sit at your desk, you feel at a loss and bored."

    For his part, Levine also overhauled his office. Cubicles are gone. He and his staff work at standing computer desks with treadmills (The treadmill stations average $1,100 compared with a $2,300 average cost for a standard cubicle set-up.) Employees also conduct meetings on a two-lane walking track that circles most of the 5,000-square-foot floor.

    Unlike their health-club cousins, the walk-workers don't sweat buckets or turn beet-red on the treadmill. They set the pace around one mile per hour, which burns about 100 calories per hour. If they spend eight hours on it, that's an extra 800 calories burned per day. They're also supposed to walk backwards for a few minutes per hour to stave off muscle imbalance.

    Walk-working could have appeal beyond the weight-loss aspect for some corporations, Levine says. As firms try to attract and retain the next generation of workers, they're realizing young people are used to fluidity, connectivity 24 hours a day and multitasking, he says.

    "There will be a major competition for the youth of America...," he says. "The No. 1 fear of the young person is the cubicle."

    In January, Tom Niccum installed a treadmill desk at his Burnsville software firm. Niccum was having trouble losing weight, despite working out three to four times a week.

    Niccum learned about Levine's work on a blog and began to investigate. He bought a high-quality, hands-free headset. He purchased a 24-inch monitor for his laptop. He mounted the equipment on a four-shelf unit in front of his treadmill. He uses a wireless keyboard and mouse.

    "I understand the value of exercise, but it feels like wasted time in a sense," he says. "This takes that whole objection away."

    He does acknowledge that it's hard to walk and write or take notes by hand, but the benefits outweigh the difficulties. He still goes to the gym to lift weights but says the walk-working has helped him lose 12 pounds, all without dieting.

    For her part, Leitner has noticed she's more productive while walk-working. Even though she's walking only 1.7 miles per hour, she does not waste steps.

    "I don't diddle-daddle," she says. "I don't do anything I don't have to be doing. I'm very efficient."

    When Leitner gets home to her family after a day at work, she's hardly exhausted. Rather, she's more active and energized to play with her 9-month-old daughter.

    "I'm like, 'Let's go, let's move,' " she says.

September 27, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


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my office is in Columbia Maryland and I am very interested in getting a treadmill. Can someone direct me where they are available

Posted by: Mary | Aug 10, 2007 4:32:00 PM

How do I get a mount for my treadmill? Do you have sources or do all of us have to build our own?

Posted by: Ed Durrett | Feb 28, 2007 1:18:11 PM

Hi Joe,

Just wanted to let you know that my treadmill desk is up and running! Yours was the first site I found after seeing Dr. Levine on 20/20, then I found Tom Niccum's site. Since both of you use Smooth treadmills, I decided to do the same. I got the Smooth 5.25 and love it! I've started losing weight and feel great knowing that I'm getting my work done AND getting my exercise in. Keep up the good work. You can see pictures of my setup here: Sharon's Treadmill Desk


Posted by: Sharon Odom Fling | Oct 30, 2006 4:17:51 PM

You are even more famous-er. wOOtie tOOtie rAH!

Posted by: Mb | Sep 27, 2006 7:15:27 PM

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