STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
If you're not going to wear compression clothing while running, maybe you'd like to wear a suit and tie on a treadmill. Not long ago, the treadmill desk was the hot, new thing to get desk workers more active. NPR's Patti Neighmond checks in on the trend.
PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: First off, I need to be upfront; I have a treadmill desk. I got it about two years ago, and this is what it sounded like then.
(SOUNDBITE OF TREADMILL)
NEIGHMOND: And this is what it sounds like now. That's right - silence. I just don't use it anymore. In fact, I probably only used it a few months. I still stand all day, but I'm not walking, and it turns out I'm probably not alone. Dr. Tim Church specializes in preventative medicine at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge.
TIM CHURCH: Treadmill desks, in some way, have kind of already seen their day.
NEIGHMOND: Church works with companies to promote healthy activities on the job, and a few years ago, a treadmill desk seemed to fit the bill.
CHURCH: It almost had a cool toy element to it. Everybody wanted one. And then when a lot of people got them, they just didn't use them that much.
NEIGHMOND: And there's not a lot of evidence showing the benefit or not of treadmill desks. One recent, small study - just 41 people - looked at whether the desks helped overweight and obese people get more active. Half the employees were given a treadmill desk and asked to walk two times a day at a leisurely pace for about 45 minutes. One of the study researchers, John Schuna, with Oregon State University.
JOHN SCHUNA: They did only use the treadmill desks about half as much as we wanted them to.
NEIGHMOND: Not only did they not use it enough, they didn't burn enough calories when they did use it to lose weight. The pace was too slow. Federal guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every week. That's walking about 3 miles per hour. And Schuna says that's difficult to do on a treadmill desk while you're working.
SCHUNA: The problem is if you tried to maintain that level of activity, it's sort of questionable how productive you could be from a work perspective. You'd likely start to perspire eventually and some people may even start to have a little bit more labored breathing or heavy breathing.
NEIGHMOND: But Schuna says don't be too quick to write off treadmill desks. The fact is some exercise is better than nothing. And some companies have figured out how to use them in the workplace. Take the staffing firm Salo in Minneapolis. In 2007, the company was part of a Mayo Clinic study - again, very small, just 18 people. For six months, people used the desks and walked on average about three hours a day and everybody lost weight. Today, marketing director Maureen Sullivan says the desks are still going strong.
RON SULLIVAN: I will get on if I'm on a conference call for an hour at a time, but there are people in our office who are on there between one to four hours either every day or every other day.
NEIGHMOND: Sullivan says the desks are a part of a very active culture at the company. There's also a game room and walking meetings. So the bottom line seems to be if you have a treadmill desk, use it. But don't forget you still have to fit about 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise into your weekly routine. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.