Sitting for extended periods is bad for your health. That's true even if you're not overweight and exercise regularly, recent research suggests. Australian researchers, for example, recently studied some 220,000 people and found that, over about a 3-year period, those who sat for 8 to 11 hours a day were 15 percent more likely to die of any cause than those who sat for 4 hours or less. Those who sat for more than 11 hours were 40 percent more likely to die. The message: Humans are meant to get up and move.
One solution is a desk treadmill, which combines an elevated workstation with a treadmill to let you work while walking. That doesn’t mean running a marathon while simultaneously writing e-mail and talking to colleagues. Treadmill desks are about moving slowly to stay active, not about getting a shirt-soaking workout.
To see how treadmill desks work and what benefits they offer, we tested two machines: the Exerpeutic 2000 Workfit (Model 1030), $750, and the LifeSpan TR1200 DT-5, $1,500.
Most of our panelists preferred this Lifespan treadmill desk.
How we tested
The recommended walking speed for computer work is less than 2 mph, although we let our 12 panelists set their own speed. They were asked to read and type on a computer, surf the Internet, and talk on the phone. Our fitness pros assessed the treadmills for ease of use, ergonomics, construction, and safety.
Find out what other readers think about treadmill desks or share your experiences using one in our forum discussion.
The Exerpeutic treadmill desk cost less than the Lifespan, but posed a tripping hazard.
What we found
Overall, the pricier LifeSpan beat out the Exerpeutic. LifeSpan did much better in our safety assessment and almost all of our panelists preferred it, saying that the wrist pad was more comfortable, they felt a little more stable on it, and it was a tad less noisy.
The Exerpeutic lost points because the motor cover posed a tripping risk and a lot of our panelists commented that their feet were hitting it while walking. The treadmill belt was also about a foot shorter than LifeSpan’s belt. LifeSpan’s desk height was adjustable, which is a great feature, although it took two people to move it because of the way the desk is configured. The angle of the Exerpeutic desk was adjustable, but not the actual height.
Though the Exerpeutic had more features, including programs and handrails with buttons to control the device’s speed and incline, more didn’t make it a better choice. You could adjust only the speed on the LifeSpan model.
The Lifespan edged out the Exerpeutic for construction quality. The Exerpeutic model, for example, had bolt holes that didn’t line up well on the knob that locks the desk into place. It also vibrated slightly at 2 and 4 mph.
Both machines take up a lot of space, although Exerpeutic’s desk and walking surface fold for easier storage. While the concept of walking while working takes some getting used to, consider buying the LifeSpan if you have the floor space for it.
Get the most from your treadmill desk
Treadmill desks aren't for everyone, and take some time getting used to. We’ve learned some valuable lessons about treadmill desks through our testing and from contributors to our treadmill desks forum.
Check your fit. Proper treadmill desk ergonomics are key. It’s important to adjust the desk so that your wrists are flat by the keyboard and mouse, your elbows form a 90-degree angle (no scrunched up shoulders), and your eyes are looking straight at or slightly below the top of your monitor.
Avoid clutter. Route phone and computer cables through desktop holes and toward a wall to minimize the tripping risk.
Wear the right clothing. You don't need full exercise gear, but it makes sense to wear comfortable athletic shoes and loose clothing. They're safer, and you're likely to stay on the machine longer.
Make sure you have the room. The machines take up a lot of space, and not all fold up for easier storage.
This article appeared in the November 2013 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
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