U of M study: Using treadmill while working can boost productivity

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New research conducted by the University of Minnesota has found that exercising while working has health benefits, as you might expect – but it can also boost worker productivity.

The study, which was published by the online research publication PLOS ONE, analyzed the effects of walking on a treadmill during the workday. It found that both overall employee productivity and health improved when employees worked at a desk refitted to have a computer, phone and writing space above a treadmill.

For 12 months, 40 employees from a financial services company in the Twin Cities walked on a treadmill at speeds of 0 to 2 mph. The walkers were allowed to use a standard desk and chair at will during the study.

The study found walkers burned 7 to 8 percent more calories per day than before the study began and there was nearly a point increase in productivity – based on a 10-point scale – after participants got used to walking while working.

Exercising during the workday isn't a new idea. Numerous studies have found people are more productive after exercising compared to days they don't exercise.

2011 Swedish study found devoting work time to physical activity can lead to higher productivity. The Mayo Clinic and other fitness organizations have suggested various ways to squeeze in a little exercise while working, including using standing desks and taking fitness breaks.

“I feel better, have more energy, get more done at work and avoid the afternoon slump,” Nikki Raedeke, a treadmill-desk user who is director of the dietetics program at the University of Missouri, told Kiplinger. She has also lost 20 pounds since getting the machine.

But can you really write an email and walk at the same time? Yes, say those who have tried it.

A Business Insider reporter detailed her experience with the treadmill workstation, which she calls a "worthwhile health craze I'd highly recommend." She did note she was less productive while working at the treadmill desk for one day.

A CNET columnist plans to continue walking while working. In an article, he details the transition from a sitting desk to a treadmill desk and also looks at various models of the workstations. Fast Company looked at the productivity benefits of the treadmill workstation, saying productivity levels depend on what type of work the employee is doing.

Avner Ben-Ner, coauthor of the U of M study and a Carlson School of Management Professor, calls the outcome of the study a win-win situation, according to a press release.

"It’s a health-improving option that costs very little. I think there will be an increasing number of employers who will invest $1,000 or $2,000 in outfitting a persons’ workstation," Ben-Ner said in a press release. "The employer benefits from the employee being active and healthy and more smart because more blood is flowing to the brain."

Ben-Ner added future research could conclude that less physically fit employees or those who have more cognitively complex tasks could gain more from using treadmill workstations, according to a press release. He also thinks the younger generations will be more apt to adapt the workstations.

No matter how much people exercise, sitting all day can still lead to diseases such as cardiovascular disease, deep-vein thrombosis, diabetes, back pain and obesity, according to Kiplinger.

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