Desk treadmills are a trend right now, should I get one?

Risk Matters - Winter 2023

Picture of Michael Scott

Michael Scott

LGIS Injury Prevention Consultant

Michael has an extensive experience in assessing workers capacity for employment and ergonomic assessments. Michael provides support and advice including ergonomic assessments, manual task awareness workshops and manual task risk assessments.

Picture of Simon O'Connor

Simon O'Connor

LGIS Injury Prevention Consultant

Simon has a background in clinical rehabilitation, occupational health and vocational rehabilitation. He provides professional injury prevention advice, support and education to LGIS members.

The short answer to this question is, ‘No, don’t use a desk treadmill.’

Treadmill desks have become a topic of increased curiosity; they’re all over social media with millions of views, especially after the work from home culture kicked in.

We know that a wealth of research has linked sedentary lifestyles to major health concerns like obesity, high blood pressure, excess body fat around the waist, and high cholesterol. Walking can help, just 8,000 to 9,000 steps a day can deliver real health benefits. Ironically, with our busy (mainly sedentary) work life, we don’t always have the time to get those steps in. It’s understandable why walking desks are appealing.

Recently, LGIS has received a number of questions about walking desks and other arrangements that combine working and exercising simultaneously at the desk.

Our advice takes a risk management approach and we caution members against bringing walking desks into an office setting.

There are a few factors at play here, and although it may be unlikely that the person would have any issues when using this equipment, there is a potential risk to the person and others in a workplace setting.

Australian physical activity guidelines

Adults should be active most days, preferably every day. Each week, adults should do either:

  • 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate intensity physical activity such as brisk walk, golf, mowing the lawn or swimming.
  • It is important to note that intensity is key to improve cardiovascular risk factors.

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Using treadmill at your office desk can pose several types of hazards for both worker and employer. These include:
Physical hazards
  • Trip hazards while getting on and off the device.
  • Balance and coordination issues while walking on a treadmill and typing, reading or using the mouse.
  • Manual handling of the treadmill to move it away from workstation to allow seated postures/break periods.
  • Overuse musculoskeletal injuries when transitioning from minimal physical activity to 6 – 8 hours of slow walking per day.
Psychological hazards
  • Losing concentration and focus during administration tasks.
  • Psychological impact on surrounding colleagues due to repetitive noise when walking on the treadmill.
  • Potential risk within job role, if staff feel like they are unable to fit exercise into their daily schedule.
  • Can affect peer communication due to noise.
Environmental hazards
  • The noise of a treadmill may impact other workers in the vicinity. There is also going to be an increase in noise coming from the device when it is in use, either noise from the motor/belt or from the footfall of the worker.

How can employers help?

  • What is the actual reason for a desk treadmill? Often it’s because workers struggle to get adequate daily physical activity, due to predominately sedentary roles. Managers should review their staff’s workload and manage this accordingly.
  • Encourage workers to take regular breaks from their workstation to allow postural changes, and aim to include injury prevention strategies such as stretching.
  • It’s preferable for a worker to be able to go for a walk around the block a few times per day, or walk somewhere for tea or lunch. This encourages regular postural changes and movement throughout the day, and provides a mental break from the work environment and works tasks.
  • Introduce walking meetings if their workers have concerns, or allocate an area for movement/games room for workers to perform low impact stretching.
  • Introduce health and wellbeing initiatives to promote physical activity and healthy behaviours such as the Great West Aussie Adventure initiative.

Let just say, exercise equipment belongs in the gym, and not at the desk.

Walking desks appear to be the next office fad (like fit balls as chairs) which don’t provide significant improvements to health benefits and end up not being as utilised as initially thought.

Workers are far better off going for a shorter brisk walk, preferably outside when weather is permitting, to simulate different parts of the brain, and improve overall mental/ psychological wellbeing as well as physical health.

There is also an argument from a productivity perspective, as some studies show reduced ability to complete fine motor skills and problem solving tasks, making completing some work tasks more difficult.

According to a study published in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation, people who were walking on treadmills had significantly slower reaction times on cognitive tasks when compared to people performing the cognitive tasks while seated.

Another study by Kodak’s Ergonomic Design for People at Work states that any employee walking greater than 3.5 miles (5.6km) a day while performing job tasks may be at risk for developing a musculoskeletal disorder.

In short, LGIS does not recommend using exercise equipment within an office setting. This applies to walking desks (treadmills), fitball/exercise ball as a chair, and under desk cycle ergometers. Although they can be useful for improving physical fitness, they are only recommended to be used for short period of time (when you are not working in the office).

For more information on LGIS health and wellbeing strategies, please get in touch with our injury prevention team at [email protected].

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