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Where workers can walk – without leaving their workstations

'Treadmill desks,' company-sponsored or home-built, energize the desk-bound.

By Amy FarnsworthCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / August 16, 2008

Shimon Rura, a home-based software developer in Somerville, Mass., says he covers up to 12 miles a day while putting in eight hours of screen time.

Mary Knox Merrill

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Never mind subsidizing employee gym memberships to combat the effects of the sedentary office lifestyle. One Minneapolis company is helping its workers get fit at their desks.

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Enter the offices of SALO, a financial-services staffing firm, and you'll find employees clattering on keyboards while they walk. But they're not roaming the floor. Last fall SALO replaced its office chairs with 16 treadmill workstations, each equipped with shelves for mouse, keyboard, and monitor. Employees can amble at a leisurely one mile per hour, burning an estimated 100 calories an hour. They can also chat during "walking meetings" in two conference rooms equipped with treadmills.

SALO, a six-year-old company, had been seeking ways to incorporate physical activity into its health-and-wellness program when a cofounder, Amy Langer, read about a desk being developed by James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Dr. Levine is a researcher in the field of NEAT, non­exercise activity thermogensis. NEAT explores a person's ability to burn additional calories or stored-up energy by walking or standing, or even moving in a seated position.

Levine collaborated with SALO employees during a six-month study that led to the installation of a handful of the treadmills. Employees tentatively got on board. Then things started to happen.

Craig Dexheimer, director of operations and administration at SALO, participated. At the start of the study, Mr. Dexheimer weighed 223 pounds. He walked on the treadmill desk three to four times each week – and dropped 25 pounds over a six-month period.

"I never joined a gym. I just came to work," he says, talking by phone – while walking – from his treadmill desk on a recent afternoon.

No one expects the cube farms of corporate America to take on the appearance of fitness clubs anytime soon. But walk-while-you-work has gained some proponents.

A firm called Details, a subsidiary of office-equipment giant Steelcase, now sells treadmill "walkstations" priced at $4,000. (SALO now uses the product in its workplace.) Details has sold more than 250 walkstations this year, according Bud Klipa, the firm's president, who calls the category "fit work" – office equipment geared at helping "people to leave work healthier than when they arrived."

Big corporations are Details's prime target, he says, though some individual users are buying in.

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