How to work out while you're working? Pedal device may be the answer

A university researcher thinks he has found the happy medium between being completely sedentary at work and sacrificing productivity for the sake of exercise.

Edgar Su/Reuters/File
Fitness coach Peter Yeoman swims in the pool of Gravity health and fitness club in Singapore's central business district July 15, 2015, which sits on top of an office building and is targeted at C-Suite executives. Research from the University of Iowa has hinted at an easier, more sustainable way to stay active while at work by giving employees pedaling devices to use while at their desks.

Somewhere between 40 and more than 80 percent of American workers have jobs that keep them sitting at their desks all day, despite research that links sitting for long periods with health risks.

Desk work may be unavoidable, but being inactive shouldn’t be, according to researchers at the University of Iowa. If it’s not feasible to take time out of the day to exercise, then being active while at work might be the answer.

Lucas Carr, assistant professor of health and human physiology and member of the Obesity Research and Education Initiative, has found a way for workers to increase physical activity without ever leaving their desks. Ease and comfort, he said in a university press release, are the most important elements to making a workplace exercise regimen sustainable.

In a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Mr. Carr gave devices that resembled bicycle pedals to 27 overweight or obese office workers to put under their desks, and found that those who used the devices most often reported weight loss and increased productivity at work.

The key, Carr said, is to make exercise as easy and un-obstructive as possible. Since participants in the study had their own pedaling devices, there was no need to take turns or to use them in a public, central location. The comfort of the device’s design was also a factor.

"This is something that could be provided to just about any employee, regardless of the size of their company or office," Carr said. "It's right at their feet, and they can use it whenever they want without feeling self-conscious in front of their co-workers."

Carr is not the first one to try and fix the problem of sedentary employees; many companies either provide employees with gym memberships or have on-site fitness facilities employees are encouraged to use. The problem with these plans, Carr said, is that people often don’t have time to leave their desks during the day, and the ones who do make it a priority are generally not the ones who need to.

"A lot of companies have gone the route of building expensive fitness facilities, that typically get used only by the most healthy employees," Carr said. "The people who need to improve their health the most are less likely to use worksite fitness facilities."

Perhaps the closest existing at-work exercise method to Carr’s pedaling machine is the “treadmill desk,” which allows employees to walk in place with their computers or office materials perched in front of them. But treadmill desks are expensive and large-scale implementation would require significant office reorganization, so the innovation has been considered better in theory than in practice.

Business Insider’s Alyson Shontel spent a whole day working on a treadmill desk in 2013 – though it is only recommended for a couple of hours’ use at a time – and said the trade-off for increased activity was decreased focus and productivity.

“The downside is that your level of productivity does suffer at the treadmill desk,” she wrote. “Your concentration is split between the physical activity, muscle pains and mental grind of actual work. While sitting, two of those are eliminated.”

On the other hand, participants in Carr’s study found they were more focused on their work when they used the pedaling devices. They also took fewer sick days. Employee use averaged 50 minutes a day – more than the recommended minimum 30 minutes a day of physical activity – and at the end of the 16-week study, 70 percent of participants elected to keep the devices.

"We are really looking to identify sustainable solutions," Carr said. "That's what we are working towards – how do we help people engage in healthy behaviors that can be sustained over the long term."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to