Treadmill desks have a hidden benefit that has nothing to do with health

Treadmill desk enthusiasts are always sharing anecdotes about their benefits, but now a year-long university study of workers has uncovered a reason they also boost the bottom line in a surprising way

Treadmill desks have a hidden benefit that has nothing to do with health
University of Minnesota researchers studied the productivity of employees with treadmill desks at a Twin Cities financial services company. Forty staff members had offices refitted with desks and treadmills that could be operated up to two miles per hour, and data on performance was collected from walkers and their supervisors.

Carlson School of Management professor of Work and Organizations Avner Ben-Ner and his coauthors found that after a brief decline in productivity while they learnt how to adjust, productivity substantially increased. He blamed the increased blood flow to the brain for the improved performance, and predicted an increase in employers who would be implementing the desks.

“I’m willing to bet my hat and my boots too that millennials will be more open to something like this because they grew up and came of age in a time concerning these types of things,” says Ben-Ner. “It will be easier than trying to break in someone who is 50 years old and a lifelong sedentary person and get them to start walking.”

Currently, organizations that do have them tend to implement them on an ad-hoc basis, says WorkWhileWalking founder Ron Wiener. “We find that the vast majority of early adopters are actually fit, health-minded individuals with an active lifestyle who find themselves in sedentary jobs they know will do them in if they don’t get more movement into their workday,” he says. “The big opportunity for large enterprise employers to drastically reduce their health care costs by offering treadmill desks to the unhealthiest individuals, those who shun gyms for personal reasons or workaholic pressures.”

HR director Pam Cottrell works for award-winning workplace Certified Angus Beef, and has a staff of about 120 in Ohio. The company recently found success with Fitbit devices and is in the process of experimenting with standing desks, but has not tried treadmill desks yet.

“We have a number of our staff using standing desks and last week I said I wanted to scope out a treadmill desk, so we have not done that yet, but it piques my interest,” says Cottrell, who has had her own standing desk for about two months. “Somehow you feel engaged and productive and motivated because you’re bopping around and not sitting. From a physical perspective standing makes you feel more mobile, and I feel like my food digests better, my back health is better, and we’ve heard that comment from people around the building.”

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