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You’ve Heard of Whistling While You Work — What About Walking While You Work?

It could make you better at both.


When you think of dangerous jobs, you probably picture physically strenuous careers like construction and firefighting — and indeed, these jobs carry risks. But did you know that sedentary desk jobs can be dangerous as well? If you spend most of your day sitting, you could be at risk for several negative health outcomes, like high blood pressure, weight gain, and heart disease. To mitigate these health risks while working, many people have invested in under-desk treadmills; these lightweight machines fit beneath standing desks and allow a user to walk while working. But how much good can an under-desk treadmill really do? Are they worth the price, or are they just an expensive distraction? Keep reading to find out if it’s the right choice for you.

What is an under-desk treadmill?

Under-desk treadmills, sometimes called “walking pads,” are lightweight and don’t have the arms or screens you might see on regular treadmills at the gym — rather, they’re just the conveyor belt. Because of their smaller size, they fit neatly underneath a standing desk (or you can fold them up and store them beneath your bed or in a closet). Either way, they have a better chance of blending seamlessly into your office setup than a full-size treadmill. 

The Benefits of Under-Desk Treadmills

Lower risk of muscle strain. Being confined to your desk all day can be a pain in the neck — literally. “Just from prolonged sitting and computer use, you can get some back strain or neck muscle strain,” Cindy Lin, associate director of Clinical Innovation at The Sports Institute at University of Washington Medicine, tells Inverse. How does walking on a treadmill help? The same way warming up before a game keeps athletes from getting injured. Light exercise, like walking, can increase muscle and body temperature, which decreases the risk of muscle strain. 

Cognitive and memory benefits. Walking a minimum of six miles a week increases gray matter in the brain, which is linked to fewer memory problems, say experts at the University of Pittsburgh. Six miles may sound like a lot, but it’s just 1.2 miles a day for 5 work days. Concerned about walking interfering with work tasks? A study from Computers in Human Behavior showed that those who worked while walking on a treadmill for 40 minutes had better recall than those who didn’t, suggesting that pairing movement with work actually boosted their memory. 

Lower risk of early death. About 80 percent of Americans have a job that requires them to be sedentary. The World Health Organization ranked “physical inactivity” as one of the world’s reading risks for mortality. You might think, I get up every once in a while to refresh my coffee. I’m not that sedentary. But sitting for over six hours a day —  keeping in mind that the average work day is eight and a half hours — is associated with a higher risk of early death, says Lin. The CDC recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week. Again, that figure might sound intimidating up-front — but it’s easily broken down into 30 minutes a day for 5 work days. So, walking on a treadmill for just a half hour while you check your emails every morning may help you live longer. Talk about multitasking!

The Disadvantages of Under-Desk Treadmills 

Why shouldn’t you get an under-desk treadmill? While they’re cheaper than traditional treadmills, they’re not cheap. They typically range from 200 to 400 dollars — which is a lot more expensive than taking a walk outside on your lunch break (still, walks outside can be easily hampered by weather). And because of their smaller, more lightweight form, they lack the features of other treadmills, like extensive speed options and the ability to incline. 

The Bottom Line

If your day-to-day routine requires you to be at a desk, and you’d like to incorporate exercise into your 9-5, an under-desk treadmill (Buy from Amazon, $319.97) might be a great fit for you. Remember to stay hydrated, and don’t set the speed too high — falling off an under-desk treadmill probably hurts just as much as falling off the regular kind. Have fun and get moving!

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