Walking While Working: The Pros and Cons of Using a Treadmill Desk

woman walking on a treadmill desk

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Deanna deBara
Deanna deBara

If you’re tired of sitting at your desk all day long, we’ve got good news for you: Sitting isn’t your only option. There is a way to get moving and get your work done—if you’re willing to swap out your traditional setup for a treadmill desk.

“They can be a great way to stay active during the workday—especially if you have a typical desk job,” says Tim Fraticelli, DPT, a physical therapist and founder of PTProgress.com.

Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about using a treadmill desk, including the pros, potential cons, and tips for making a treadmill desk work for you:

What are the pros of using a treadmill desk?

From a health perspective, one of the biggest challenges of today’s traditional work environment is that many jobs require people to sit at a desk all day long. And spending the day sitting and sedentary is associated with a number of negative health outcomes, including high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Which is why one of the biggest pros of using a treadmill desk is that it gets you up and out of your seat. 

With treadmill desks, “you can walk while doing your job, so you're not just sitting all day,” says Lalitha McSorley, a physical therapist at Brentwood Physiotherapy Calgary.

Spending time throughout the day standing or walking—and the change in positioning that goes along with it—can also help to support muscle and joint health.

“Using a treadmill desk allows you to change positions so your muscles and joints get to experience different positions and different forces on them—often times allowing them to elongate and stretch out,” says Theresa Marko, a board-certified clinical specialist in orthopedic physical therapy and CEO and owner of Marko Physical Therapy, PLLC. “In addition, being able to walk on the treadmill allows you to get some movement in your legs, pelvis, and spine. The movement helps your body maintain joint mobility and flexibility as well as work on the strengthening that comes from walking and weight bearing.”

Finally, using a treadmill desk means you’ll be spending a good portion of your day walking. And walking offers a variety of physical, mental, and cognitive benefits that could help improve your performance at work—for example, improved mood and more creative thinking.

What are the potential cons of using a treadmill desk?

Clearly, using a treadmill desk can deliver some health benefits. But that doesn’t mean this setup isn’t without its drawbacks.

For starters, some people find it challenging to acclimate to walking and working at the same time—and for those people, productivity might take a temporary hit. “Your work productivity may decrease slightly as you may not be able to concentrate as well or work as fast when on a treadmill desk,” says Dave Candy, DPT, owner of More 4 Life, a practice based in St. Louis, MO.

Even if you’re a person who can get a lot done on the treadmill desk, you can’t get too into focused work; otherwise, you might forget that you’re actively moving on a treadmill—and find yourself tumbling off the back. As Candy puts it, “You also have to be careful not to fall off.”

Another potential drawback is that, from a logistical standpoint, this desk setup just doesn’t work for everyone, or every office.

“Treadmill desks can be noisy, expensive, and take up a lot of space,” says McSorley.

How to making a treadmill desk work for you

Want to give a treadmill desk a try? Here are a few tips to making this walking-centric office setup the right fit for your workday: 

Keep any health issues in mind

Treadmill desks aren’t right—or safe—for everyone.

“People who have trouble walking or balance issues shouldn't use a treadmill desk,” says McSorley. “It could be dangerous for them.”

In addition, if you have certain health conditions that impact your cardiovascular health and/or your ability to exercise, it’s important to talk to your doctor and get the go-ahead before you start using a treadmill desk.

“Anyone with a cardiac condition should be cleared by their cardiologist first.” continues Marko. “And if anyone has any other preexisting health conditions that any exercise might aggravate should consult with their physician first.”

Be choosy about the tasks you do while walking

If you want to be effective while working on a treadmill desk, the tasks you choose to work on while walking are key.

“Treadmill desks are best for tasks that don't require excessive concentration or manual dexterity—as you have to coordinate your working with walking,” says Candy.

For example, taking a conference call, responding to emails, or brainstorming could be great tasks to tackle on a treadmill—while tasks that require more focus or concentration, like writing the script for an important presentation, are best tackled when you’re stationary. 

Experiment with different settings

There’s no one-size-fits-all setting for treadmills. So, if you want to be productive while using your treadmill desk, you need to experiment with the different settings—including time, speed, and incline—until you find the combination that’s right for you.

For example, you might like to jump on your treadmill desk for 10 minutes at a high incline to get your blood pumping for a big presentation. Or you might enjoy being on your treadmill desk for longer stretches of time, like 60 minutes—just at a slower speed and lower incline.

The point is, “keep changing different variables until you build up the tolerance to get to where you want,” says Marko.

Don’t feel like walking? You can still stand

A treadmill desk is, by design, made for walking. But if you go through a stretch where you don’t want to walk and work, you can still reap the benefits—even if your treadmill speed is at 0. 

“You can still use the treadmill desk as a stationary standing desk, as standing while working has been shown to improve productivity,” says Fraticelli.

Don’t use a treadmill desk as an exercise replacement

Treadmill desks help you incorporate more activity into your day—which is undoubtedly a win. But it’s important to note that walking and working shouldn’t be your only form of activity.

“Treadmill desks are typically used at speeds of 2.0 mph or less,” says Candy. “That's enough to counteract the effects of being sedentary all day, but for most people it doesn't significantly improve your strength or cardiovascular health.”

Make sure that, in addition to walking at your treadmill desk, you’re also hitting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly exercise recommendations: 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of muscle strengthening activity per week.

Bottom line? “Treadmill desks are good to supplement an exercise program, but they're not a substitute for one,” says Candy.


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