I know everyone discussed this ages ago, but how about a reprise for those of us (OK, just me) who are several weeks late and several dollars short?

So, via Eat a Cheeseburger, I learned about desks at which workers walk throughout their workday in an effort to burn calories and improve their health.

My first concern is, I can understand in theory the appeal of getting in a workout at work since you have to be there for the better part of your waking hours anyway, but I wonder if the desk treadmills, used at the speeds they discuss in the article, would actually help anyone meet their fitness goals. Or, more specifically, whether these treadmills would do anything other than burn calories throughout the course of the workday. This is because the article said that the workers in the pilot study walked really slowly and this is what made it possible to safely type and walk at the same time (and I agree with this assessment–I can’t picture myself typing or concentrating on a conference call while walking 3 mph or faster, that’s for sure).

While I’m sure walking at sub-2.0-mph speeds is still somewhat good for your bones and lower body musculature (leaving aside the possibility of injury, see below), I question whether it really has any impact on cardiovascular fitness. You wouldn’t be elevating your heart rate at all so I personally wouldn’t see it as “exercise” (I can’t see it, for example, improving my 10K time, or the number of push-ups I can do, or the amount of time I can run without stopping, or my ability to bike up hills, or my flexibility for yoga–I mean I don’t personally do the latter two forms of exercise, but hypothetically)–just calorie-burning. And given that the only purpose of calorie-burning in a vacuum can be “to make fatties less fat”–a goal that I do not consider intrinsically valuable–I can’t support the spirit of the idea. Not to mention that you have to believe that most of the time, the workers are probably going to end up eating more to compensate unless they are actually on a calorie-restricted diet (don’t get me wrong, most workplaces are thrilled to encourage dieting, and in any case workers probably would be on diets just by virtue of living in the U.S. in 2008 and breathing air and having the ability to read newspaper headlines) so even this “benefit” might be moot.

So I hate the treadmill/desks for what they represent–a desperate hunt for ways to “fix” fatties and a pathological fear of obesity that I believe is blown way out of proportion. I also think that there is a not-insignificant potential for injury or at least strain with all the repetitive, constant footstrikes. And finally, I very much doubt that this is more than a passing fad; how long can you realistically expect people to keep this up? Most folks are not actually chained to a desk 8 hours a day and I can’t see firing up the treadmill when all you have returned to your desk for is to check email between meetings, or quickly eat your lunch, or grab your notes so you can go discuss them with a coworker.

However, there was a compelling argument in the article that walking while they worked actually helped workers concentrate more because they were occupying part of their brains with the simplistic task of putting one foot in front of the other, therefore making it easier to focus on the task at hand and screen out distractions. I imagine it to be sort of like how listening to your iPod at your desk can actually help your concentration. When I use my iPod at work, I envision the part of my brain that would normally be zipping around the office listening to my coworker clip her fingernails or my other coworker talking loudly on the phone to his wife or the microwave beeping or the muted sounds of the speakerphone from the conference room–that part of my brain instead seems to happily settle in to listen to music, and the rest is free to work on the task at hand. Were the treadmills to provide a similar benefit, I might actually be on board with them. I have a lot of trouble concentrating at work and anything that might help is worth a shot in my book. I can also imagine that the constant movement could improve circulation and mitigate some of the impacts of sitting still all day long, which might be another plus.

I suspect being on my tired, aching feet all day (after which I probably wouldn’t feel like running so that would be another big negative) might offset these possible advantages though. And wouldn’t you expect possible varicose veins and other maladies associated with jobs where employees stand or walk all day?

In the end, I guess I think this is just another idea that in a vacuum would not be inherently horrible. But given the baggage of morality issues associated with fat, the state of modern labor that makes it seem perfectly logical for workers to have to literally trudge to nowhere all day long instead of only figuratively doing so like they normally would (the resemblance to a hamster wheel noted by hope505 and Lindsay in the EAC comments is a little too striking), and the fact that I doubt too many actual health benefits would accrue from this practice, I have to say that my final verdict on the concept of cube treadmills is: mildly depressing.

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