Treadmill desks have been gaining popularity as a solution for helping sedentary workers out of their desk chairs. Although they can help burn off fat, new research suggests there’s a downside.
A study published in PLOS One, found that walking on a treadmill desk may result in a modest difference in total learning and typing outcomes relative to sitting. Researchers at Brigham Young University recruited 75 healthy young men and women – 38 assigned to the sitting group and 37 assigned to the treadmill walking group. Participants 18 to 35 years old were analyzed for their ability to type at least 25 words per minute.
The treadmill desk was set to move at a speed of 1.5 mph with zero incline while analyzing the attention, learning and memory through multiple cognitive tests. Each participant was asked to learn and recall a list of words, adding numbers in their head while given new numbers on a list and how well they typed.
Results showed that participants in the treadmill walking group performed worse than those sitting on all tests that looked at speed, attention, typing accuracy and memory, all of which require fine-motor skills or heavy concentration.
Although the treadmill group performed lower in all tests, there was no significant variations between the groups to warrant any major concern.
“Though statistically significant, we are not talking about major differences between the treadmill walking and sitting conditions,” said James LeCheminant, exercise science professor who conducted the study. “Rather, these are very modest differences.”
Researchers strongly support the use of treadmill desks and found that the results do not outweigh the physical activity benefits. In fact, BYU professor Michael Larson said he plans to buy one for himself.
After analyzing the results, study leaders suggested that treadmill desks may be the most appropriate to use during tasks that are less cognitive-demanding, like checking email or assignments that do not require a great deal of fine-motor skills.