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Stiff & Sore from Sitting All Day? A Treadmill Desk Might Be Your Answer

From the Show: Train Your Body
Summary: If you haven't heard, treadmill desks are really catching on.
Air Date: 4/21/15
Duration: 10
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest Bio: John P. Higgins, MD
John HigginsJohn P. Higgins MD, MBA (Hons), MPHIL, FACC, FACP, FAHA, FACSM, FASNC, FSGC, is a sports cardiologist for The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and the Harris Health System. His research interests include the effects of energy beverages on the body, and screening for underlying cardiovascular abnormalities in 12-year-olds (6th graders), and steroid effects on the cardiovascular system.
Stiff & Sore from Sitting All Day? A Treadmill Desk Might Be Your Answer
Many of us spend hours upon hours working at desks with computers, causing you to be stiff and tired from sitting all day.

But now, there's a way to combat your work fatigue.

Treadmill desks could be the answer for you.

John P. Higgins, MD, discusses this new way of keeping fit while working at your desk or work station.

RadioMD Presents: Train Your Body | Original Air Date: April 21, 2015
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest: John P. Higgins, MD

Your trainer, Melanie Cole, is here to motivate and help you perform. It's time now for Train Your Body.

MELANIE: So, you know they say you shouldn’t sit all day. “They”. I am one of the “they”. But they say you shouldn’t sit all day and people have experimented with standing desks and all kinds of things. Well, today we are talking about treadmill desks and my questions are going to be, can you still be productive?

My guest today, fan favorite, Dr. John Higgins, Sports Cardiologist at the UT Health Science Center in Houston.

So Dr. Higgins…treadmill desks…great in theory. I've seen them. I've tried them. But do they work productivity wise? Can you get stuff done? Do you start to stink? Are they really office friendly?

JOHN: Yes, well those are excellent questions, Melanie, and we will try to tackle those today. I think this new study which I wanted to briefly discuss looks at a kind of new approach to fitting a treadmill desk into a work place. So what they did in this office, they had about 40 office workers who were on average age about 40. And what they did instead of getting everyone a treadmill desk which is, you know hot, and sweaty. You know, it's a lot of work during the day. People burn out quickly. What they did is they actually just got one treadmill desk station and then they used the Microsoft Outlook scheduler and what they wanted was that each person in the workplace had to put in 45 minutes on a regular basis. You know, at least every day or every other day on the treadmill desk. And they would often have it set up next to another standing desk so that the person, for example, would schedule a meeting with someone. They would be walking on their treadmill desk while they were talking to the other person or persons in the office. And that way, what they were able to accomplish is not only getting people up out of the chairs--the person on the treadmill as well as the people standing next to them who were in the meeting with them--but also they were able to significantly increase the amount of exercise and activity in these folks. So this....and it wasn't, they did not have the burnout that other articles have shown where they've just basically come in and said, “Okay, no one's sitting anymore.”. And what happened in a lot of those studies were that people burned out after a short period of time and were kind of leaning on their treadmills and just not walking and kind of converting their treadmills into more like a high chair.

MELANIE: Well, you can lean and the thing is, I've been reading some studies and some articles too, Dr. Higgins.

JOHN: Yes.

MELANIE: Standing desks, I don't really love. I love to stand a little but my blood, you know, I don't want to get blood pooling and then you have to move around. Standing all day isn't that great anyway if you're standing in one place.

JOHN: Exactly.

MELANIE: So, okay we all agree that the treadmill desks can burn more calories and do all of that but what about using a mouse, what about taking a meeting, what about typing an email? Are these things--our own Dr. Mike Rozen says he uses a treadmill desk, but how efficient can you be in that 45 minutes that you're doing it? Can you actually get your work done? Talk on the phone to a client without sounding like you are running down the hall even if you're walking slow?

JOHN: No. That is an excellent question, Melanie. And what the treadmill desk--how they differ from regular treadmills at the gym is that most of them don't have any type of slope on them for starts. So, they don't…They typically are flat and they're also designed to run under two miles an hour. So, a lot of people find they can walk very comfortably and easily at, for example, one mile an hour which is a very slow walking pace. And what they do is they have adjustments made for not only where the computer, for example, and the writing material is that you would use with built-in suspension, but they also have special ergonomic keyboards. Some of them that will, in fact, help you to do your work given the fact that you are going to be having a little bit of motion, as well as some of them do have the voice command operations as well. So, certainly there are some things that seem like you can do fairly easily. Particularly if you're going relatively slowly, you can carry on--you should be able to carry on--a conversation. In fact, they want you to be able to carry on a conversation while you are on the treadmill desk. So, there are some kinds of ways around some of those things, Melanie, and, of course, they are getting better and better in terms of how to interact between you and your computer whereby you can minimize the amount of actual finger contact.

MELANIE: Well, so okay. So, maybe the voice that's a great idea and explaining the situation to your employees. Now what about the sort of sweat factor? You know…do you… Would this change the dress code at work? You know? So, now we're in short and t-shirts at work because you can't really walk in a suit or that sort of thing and then maintain your business look all day.

JOHN: Yes. No, I agree with you, Melanie. I think they need to… If you are going to have something like this at work, you will need to have people, for example, using different types of shoes most of the time at a minimum and then also have a…probably have at least you know some sort of shower facility at work. Another approach is, of course, that a lot of places have is they have a type of gym. There are a lot of works that have like mini gyms that they have set up as well as a walking track or running track, either inside or outside of the office. So any way we can get people out of their chairs, because again there have been a number of studies that have just come up recently with the fact that the longer the time you spend sitting in the chair and, in fact, they are even talking about the fact that you probably shouldn't be spending more than an hour just sitting there without getting up because it seems to be a risk factor for metabolic as well as heart problems. So, this is certainly something that can help with that. But you are right. There have got to be changes that happen at the workplace.

MELANIE: They have got be able to allow for those kinds of things. Maybe keep a cleaning station. Now Dr. Higgins, there's a Dutch design firm that did a project of a work environment not based on tables and desks, but leaning. And I don't know if you have seen this but it is fascinating to me and their work space is in all different angles so that you are not just standing having blood pooling but you are leaning. You are leaning back. You are leaning forward.
JOHN: Wow.

MELANIE: And there is support in all different angles so you can lean sideways, or you can lean forward, or you can be on your knees, or stand. And so, do you think that the future of workplaces is going to change as we realize that the health benefits of moving around instead of just sitting locked in a cubicle at your desk and the dangers of that.

JOHN: Absolutely. I think there are a number of things that…We know that not only does sitting on the chair give people heart issues in terms of increasing their risk of heart attack as well as obesity, but also, most of the chairs that are at work are not ergonomically designed chairs and so people are going to run into all sorts of problems with back pain, arthritis, etc. from them. So, having a total environment like you described, Melanie, where it not only allows activity but also stimulates improved posture and makes sure that you are getting the right amount of usage of different muscles in your bodies and stress on the different joints not just all being, you know, on a small group of joints which is currently what I think is happening in a lot of situations for most people that go to work and just sit in the same place. They have the same lean and oftentimes, like you mentioned, Melanie, their posture is not that great.

MELANIE: Well it's certainly is something for corporations to look at. And if you're somebody who wants to try it out, maybe ask your boss. See if you can get one in for a trial and have everybody try it out in the office and see what it's like to see if you can be productive and see how it works. Anything that you do, like Dr. Higgins says, that gets you up out of your desk--you shouldn't be there for much longer than one hour in the whole day--is going to be better for you than just sitting there the whole day.

You're listening to Train Your Body. This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening to RadioMD and stay well.