The Walking Desk

I’ve been exercising for years, was a long-time runner, now I go to the gym everyday. Or when I’m out of town, I take a walk, often two or three a day. The rest of the day I sit at my desk. That means I’m sitting most of the time I’m awake. Not good.

In an article in the New Yorker, the always-amusing Susan Orlean claims that sitting most of the day can cancel all the benefits of exercising for an hour or so of daily exercising. I always thought that being fit and healthy was simply a matter of frequent exercising. No, she says, non-exercise activity is far more important.

Here she is writing the article while walking slowly on a treadmill, typing away on her “walking desk.” The treadmill sits below an elevated platform with her computer screen and keypad, printer (on the floor), while her dog is standing by peering up at her. Meanwhile she is talking on the phone with Dr. James Levine, who she says is the “leading researcher in the marvelous-sounding field of inactivity studies.”

Levine claims we spend all too much time sitting somewhere, making use of a chair or sofa, not moving about or even standing. He reports that people who stayed thin were able to greatly increase their overall activity rate (fidgeting, pacing, standing, bouncing, or jiggling their legs) compared to those prone to gain weight.

According to Orlean, investigators have reported that individuals who sit for six hours or more each day have an over-all death rate twenty percent higher than those who sit for three hours or less, while walking (distance or time or number of steps was not reported) reduced the risk of cardiovascular problems by thirty-one percent and cut the risk of dying by thirty-two percent during the period of the study.

“The worst news,” she says,” is that hard exercise for an hour a day may not cancel out the damage done by sitting for six hours.” Can this really be true?

The treadmill desk seems a totally fanciful idea to me. I can’t imagine concentrating on my work or even emailing someone, while walking slowly. Orlean estimates there are now more than a thousand members of a group who work at a treadmill desk.

The practice is not exactly sweeping the nation, but her article does suggest that remaining inactive most of the day may have ill effects that haven’t been widely recognized before.