COVID has changed the face of work, and many people have set up home offices. The treadmill desk setup allows you to move more while you work, but is it the right purchase for you?

Let’s start with defining your goals for a treadmill desk. Are you seeking increased focus or improved fitness?

Can you focus on work and walk at the same time? Searching on YouTube, it’s easy to find walking and texting fails, with many comical accidents resulting from walking while focusing on the phone. In the office environment, this is particularly relevant. Can you focus on work tasks as well as on walking? This article discusses cognitive performance on a treadmill, as there are complex, multi-dimensional cognitive demands necessary to control the process of maintaining body stability during walking.  Think of the brain as a battery: if you shunt brain battery power to control walking, you will end up with reduced battery power for cognitive processes. It will be harder to focus on work tasks if you are walking at the same time. Which makes sense, based on how many studies there are about reduced focus while multitasking.

A New York Times article from 2015 about the downside of treadmill desks highlights a study showing that “people who had walked during the testing performed worse on almost all aspects of thinking, including the ability to concentrate and remember, compared with those who had been seated.” However, another study showed that performance was unaffected while walking on an active workstation, supporting the use of treadmill workstations as a means to promote physical activity in the workplace.

In looking at the fitness aspect of treadmill desks, this article discusses the calorie burn for Standing Desks and Treadmill Desks, and found a small increase in the average metabolic rate from sitting (80 calories/hour) to standing (95 calories/hour). Treadmill desk speed is typically between 1.0 and 2.5 mph, which provides an average calorie burn of 170-240 calories per hour, 2-3 times as many as you burn sitting.

In conclusion, if your goal is improved focus, maybe a treadmill desk isn’t for you. But, if you still want a treadmill desk, try sitting for your higher focus activities, and reserve your walking time for lesser-focus tasks. If your goal is fitness, you will definitely get extra steps and burn more calories walking than sitting.  However, don’t forget to also schedule dedicated time to exercise!

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