Treadmill Desk Heats Up Office Jobs

The Walkstation

For around $6,500, one can purchase a Walkstation a work the body and mind simultaneously. hide caption

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The Walkstation is a computer desk with a built-in treadmill. What does this say about our multi-tasking society?

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Not all of us get to play baseball for a living. Most of us sit for a living at a desk. There is a gadget out there, though, that could get you moving while you work. It's a combination workstation and treadmill. And as Celeste Headlee reports, people are actually climbing aboard.

CELESTE HEADLEE: Like many of us, Terry Weller(ph) thinks she's too sedentary. She's the office manager for the Sports Car Center in Syracuse, New York. Weller was reading an article that said she should try and take 10,000 steps every day.

Ms. TERRY WELLER (Walkstation User): So I bought a pedometer and I put it on, and at the end of the day, when I got home from work, I had walked 986 steps. And I thought, I have just got to get moving somehow. But it's difficult to get moving when your work requires you to sit at a desk.

HEADLEE: Then she heard about a device called the Walkstation. It's basically a height adjustable desk with a commercial grade treadmill attached. Weller bought one and now walks between five and seven miles a day while she's balancing the books.

Ms. WELLER: It's not any more difficult to stand and walk while you're typing. It isn't difficult at all, because you're not walking at such a rate that impedes any of those functions.

HEADLEE: The Walkstation is the brainchild of endocrinologist James Levine from the Mayo Clinic. He says although people only walk about or two miles an hour on the Walkstation, it makes a big difference.

Dr. JAMES LEVINE (Mayo Clinic): As son as you carry your body weight on your legs and you start moving, you double - you double - your metabolic rate. So for most people, at one mile an hour, they are burning an extra 100 to 150 calories an hour. It's huge.

HEADLEE: The Walkstation is specially designed, and priced, for corporate customers. It sells for somewhere between $3,500 and $4,500. Bud Klipa is the president of Details, a unit of office furniture giant Steelcase that produces the Walkstation.

Mr. BUD KLIPA (President, Details): We were already onto to the notion that there isn't any perfect kind of ergonomic position for computing, that we really want to encourage people to move more. When Dr. Levine sort of layered on the whole idea of sort of walking at the same time, we were like - wow.

HEADLEE: Klipa may be excited about the prospects for the Walkstation, but he could have his work cut out for him in selling actual office workers on the concept. We asked a number of people at a Starbucks in suburban Detroit what they would think about a treadmill computer station in their office, and the general consensus was, are you kidding?

Ms. JENNIFER FOSO(ph): I'd wonder if they were serious.

HEADLEE: Jennifer Foso says it's a good idea to get employees to be more active, but she can't imagine being able to focus while she's walking on a treadmill.

Ms. FOSO: I think it would be difficult to focus on working and working out at the same time, sort of pat your head, rub your tummy syndrome.

HEADLEE: Bud Klipa admits the Walkstation can call to mind the image of a hamster on a wheel.

Mr. KLIPA: Yes, there is the sort of the humorous, are you guys serious? On the other hand, yes, we are serious about it and it is a pretty serious tool.

HEADLEE: So how do you concentrate on your work when you're plodding away on a treadmill? I decided to try it for myself.

Mr. KLIPA: So what you want to do is, first of all, step on the sidebars...

HEADLEE: And after a couple minutes of adjustment, I didn't notice the treadmill at all. Honest.

Mr. KLIPA: Because you don't think about it when you're walking down the street talking on a cell phone. Correct? And that's exactly what's happening here. It's second nature to you.

HEADLEE: The Walkstation isn't for everyone. Dr. Levine advises that as with any other physical activity you get the advice of your doctor before you try it and you should start slowly. But he says it can help with employee morale and have a significant impact on healthcare costs. All that is yet to be proved, of course. But April Williams, president of North Star Marketing in Rhode Island, says she's ready to buy. Williams has already invested in an office fitness program, and she says it's worth every penny.

Ms. APRIL WILLIAMS (North Star Marketing): I think it also actually also gives my team a feeling and an understanding that I care more about them than just what happens at work. I care about their health.

HEADLEE: Steelcase is working on similar products, like a desk with a stationery bike. The company plans to offer a version of the Walkstation priced for the consumer market. It's not in stores yet, but perhaps that's just as well - it's probably not the best Valentine's Day gift, anyway.

For NPR News, I'm Celeste Headlee in Detroit.

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