How Much Can a Desk Treadmill Actually Boost Your Fitness?

Photo: Getty Images/martin-dm
We often hear about the dangers of a stationary lifestyle. Sitting still for hours every day can increase our risk of heart disease and hypertension, and lead to pain and muscle weakness, among other health consequences. Unfortunately, over 80 percent of jobs in the United States are predominantly sedentary, according to the American Health Association.

Under-desk treadmills have become a popular way to combat the effects of sitting still all day by getting you up and walking (slowly) while you work.

But, are these desk treadmills truly effective for increasing your fitness? And is it actually possible to focus enough to get work done while you’re on one?

Experts In This Article

What can a desk treadmill really do for your fitness?

“Desk treadmills are better than being completely sedentary, but they're not going to dramatically improve your fitness level,” says Dave Candy, DPT,  a board-certified specialist in orthopedic physical therapy and owner of More 4 Life PT. “You could consider walking on a treadmill [while working at your desk] to be ‘restorative’ or ‘therapeutic’ exercise rather than fitness exercise.”

In other words, while it is excellent to be more active by using a desk treadmill, the pace you’ll need to keep while working is going to be super low intensity. This type of slow walking isn’t necessarily going to translate to significant improvement in your aerobic fitness, though it can have significant improvement in your overall health.

“Slow walking increases your circulation and helps your muscles from getting stiff. Walking on a desk treadmill also gives you a posture change so that you're standing instead of sitting all day,” says Dr. Candy. “It gets your joints moving in a weight-bearing position, which helps get increased blood flow to your spinal discs as well as helps your knees and hips secrete synovial fluid.”

This lubricating fluid helps your joints stay healthy and can prevent stiffness, and because blood carries oxygen and nutrients to your tissues, enhanced circulation helps keep your muscles, connective tissues, and the intervertebral discs nourished and healthy as well.

Using a treadmill desk can also help you reach 7,000 steps per day, which has been shown to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality.

Studies have also found that interspersing exercise during the workday may improve productivity. This is thought to be largely attributable to the boost in mood that exercise can provide. That's not to mention that moving your body also increases circulation to your brain, which may improve focus and energy.

However, you’re still probably going to want to hit the gym. “Desk treadmill walking doesn't replace the benefits of other workouts; rather, it supplements other exercise,” Dr. Candy says. “However, if you're not going to take the time to exercise outside of work, it's better than being completely sedentary.”

Tips for using a desk treadmill

The optimal way that you should incorporate desk treadmill walking into your daily routine will depend on your current fitness level, the nature of the work that you are doing, and the other forms of exercise that you perform during the week.

Where to start

Beginners can start with relatively brief walks once or twice a day during working hours. “Using a desk treadmill for 10 to 30 minutes can be a useful way to change positions and refresh your body and your mind during the workday—one or two times per day is probably ideal,” recommends Dr. Candy. “You've got to balance health benefits with work productivity, since you likely won't be at your maximum productivity while walking.”

How fast should you go?

“As far as speed, most desk treadmills have a maximum speed of under 5 mph," says Dr. Candy. "Realistically, if you're working while walking, you're probably going to walk closer to 2 mph.”

Safety features to consider

In most cases, you will be multitasking as you walk, so your focus will not necessarily be on each step. Yet you want to make sure you stay safe on it. “Desk treadmills come in different widths and with different safety features," says Dr. Candy. "Consider getting one with a wider belt and also one that has an automatic stop feature if you step off,” he advises.

When to walk while you work

Walking on a treadmill at your desk should not detract from your work nor pose a safety risk because you are too immersed in your work. Think about what sorts of work tasks are compatible with using your desk treadmill (like taking a phone call) and which require more focused attention (like writing).

“Use the treadmill when you're doing work that doesn't require intense concentration—for example, reading a report or when you're muted on a conference call,” suggests Dr. Candy. “If you're writing a report or an email to a client, it’s probably not the best time to be on the treadmill.”

Desk treadmills to consider

Sunny Health & Fitness Slim Walking Pad Treadmill — $300.00

This walking pad comes with a remote control to adjust the pace anywhere from 0. 5 to 3.75 miles per hour. The shock absorption will keep your joints happy, while the active-use detection with automatically pause the belt after five seconds of you stopping.

Egofit Walker M1/M1T — $399.00

This compact options clocks in at just under 40 inches long and 22 inches wide, yet still offers up to 5 percent incline.

GOYOUTH 2 in 1 Under Desk Electric Treadmill — $390.00

If you want to get in some higher speeds after work, this treadmill goes up to six miles per hour. Luckily, wheels make it easy to move around your home office/gym.

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