Monday, December 14, 2009
Regular readers of Obesity Panacea will know that Peter and I are big fans of Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, or NEAT. NEAT refers to any and all caloric expenditure which takes place outside of structured exercise sessions. Things like walking to the bus stop, walking up and down stairs, and carrying groceries all fall into the category of NEAT. Although individually these activities may not burn many calories, over the day they can add up, and are likely to have a substantial impact on health.
There are lots of ways to increase the amount of NEAT that you get on a daily basis. You can commute to work by bike or public transit, and you can go for walk meetings rather than sitting around a conference table (for our previous post on the top 10 ways to increase NEAT, click here). But what about the days when you have to work at a desk? Believe it or not, several companies have recently come out with treadmill desks, which allow you to perform all of your normal office activies while walking at a leisurely pace of 1-2 miles per hour. That might seem a little ridiculous, but there is a bit of science behind it - James Levine, the researcher who coined the term NEAT, reports that working at a treadmill workstation rather than sitting at a desk increases caloric expenditure by about 100 calories per day. Now that's not a huge amount, but it's a step in the right direction. And given the strong associations between sedentary time and mortality, anything that gets you off your duff is probably a good thing.
Typical examples of these new treadmill desks include the Sit-to-Walkstation which can accommodate just about any type of office activity that can be done on a regular desk (see picture below), and can actually be moved up and down, so that it can be used as a normal desk when you're not walking.
While the Sit-to-Walkstation has great functionality, it also has a huge pricetag - Amazon.com lists it at $4,899 USD! That is why I was so excited when I came across the SurfShelf Treadmill Desk earlier this fall on Weighty Matters. The SurfShelf is basically a music stand that you strap onto your treadmill, elliptical machine or exercise bike. You can then use it to hold your laptop, a DVD player, or one would assume just about anything else (see the picture below). It's much smaller and less functional than the Sit-to-Walkstation, but it's also a lot cheaper - $39.95.
Now I haven't used the SurfShelf personally, but I can see it being pretty handy. I often read on my stationary bike at home, and it would be extremely useful to be able to work on my laptop as well. If I could do simple things like marking assignments, reading articles, and writing papers (or blog posts) while walking or riding at a leisurely pace, it would be a welcome change! I like to do my actual workouts outside whenever I can, so the prospect of watching DVDs while working out is less appealing to me, although I can understand why this would be attractive for a lot of people. And the Surfshelf instructional video claims that attaching and removing the unit is quite simple, which I assume means that you can take it to the gym if you don't have a treadmill of your own.
So, are treadmill desks worth it? I'm not convinced that the more expensive models are worth the cost ($5,000 for a treadmill?!?), but I can see simpler versions like the SurfShelf being quite useful. In fact, building one of your own looks like it would be pretty simple as well (I have friends that have done as much with little more than a piece of wood and a clamp). If you have used any type of treadmill desk, feel free to share your experiences in the comments section below. Do you think they are worth the expense? Have you made your own treadmill desk? We'd love to hear your story if you have!
Both the Sit-to-Walkstation and SurfShelf can be purchased through Amazon.com.
UPDATE: The TreadDesk is another "fully functional" treadmill desk which costs roughly $2,300. Still a little pricey for me (ok, WAY too pricey for me) but it's still much more affordable than some options. Thanks to Amanda Rudelt for letting us know about it.
UPPERDATE: The TrekDesk Treadmill Desk is a scaled down, but still fully functional treadmill and desk that retails for just under $500 US. We'll continue to keep our eyes peeled for cheaper treadmill desks, and please feel free to add your own to the comments section below.
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