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U of M study: Walking while working improves health, may boost productivity

According to new research from the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management, walking on a treadmill during the workday not only improves health, it can also potentially boost productivity.

Researchers outfitted 40 workstations at a Twin Cities financial services company with a computer, phone, writing area and treadmill. As subjects worked, they could adjust their walking speed up to two mph. To help gauge workout intensity, each subject was also given an energy expenditure device to be worn during work hours.

Data on performance and work-related activities and events were collected for a year through employee and supervisor surveys. To measure productivity, a ten-point scale measured overall results derived from employee and supervisor surveys that looked at quantity of performance, quality of performance, and quality of interaction with co-workers.

“Study volunteers increased their total daily activity expenditure by more than 8 percent,” said Avner Ben-Ner, Ph.D., lead author and professor within the Carlson School of Management.

As an added health benefit, walkers were burning 7 to 8 percent more calories a day than before the study began.

“Moving throughout the day helps combat the effect of what has been dubbed the ‘sitting disease,’ where too much sitting in the day can lead to other health problems,” said Mark A. Pereira, Ph.D. a University of Minnesota School of Public Health epidemiologist. “Standing desks and treadmill desks have tremendous potential towards improving health, fitness, and preventing a variety of very costly chronic diseases and conditions.”

While the traditional sitting workspace is still being used in offices across the United States, there is real evidence to support standing or treadmill desks. Looking forward, Ben-Ner would like to continue exploring treadmill desks and examine different circumstances that could affect employee performance. For instance, people who are more sedentary or have cognitively demanding tasks may benefit more from the treadmills.

For now, Ben-Ner hopes organizations will consider their potential.

“For businesses looking to invest in their workforce, this is a win-win situation.”

Whether for health or productivity reasons, employees may start to think twice before they take a seat. To learn more about the benefits of standing, click here.

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