A New Study Says Using a Fancy Treadmill Desk Won't Help You Lose Weight

Will someone. Please. Just tell us how to be healthy at work.

Woman wearing sneakers and tights running on treadmill
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Studies keep telling us that—despite the fact that our jobs kind of call for it—sitting down all day is killing us. Yesterday, Apple CEO Tim Cook even called sitting "the new cancer." But just-released research says that the treadmill desk, which we thought was supposed to be the answer, may not be the cure-all we thought. 

Researchers at Oregon State University had a group of overweight and obese office workers try treadmill desks for three months, and measured their daily step count and general physical activity. They found that treadmill desks help you get active, but not by a whole lot.

In general, participants took 1,000 more steps every day, but had no significant weight loss or change to their BMIs after three straight months. That might be because the participants slacked off—they only used the treadmills on average for 45 minutes a day, which is half of what they were asked to do. Also, they walked slowly (about 1.8 miles per hour), which doesn't measure up to the moderate-intensity exercise you need to stay healthy. (But really, have you tried to type an email while you're jogging at a steady clip? Scary.)

"One of the challenges with the treadmill desk is that it needs to be lower-intensity activity so employees can still perform their work duties," lead researcher John M. Schuna, Jr. said in a press release. And if it's tough to work while walking, you may be more tempted to step off, grab a coffee, and chat with a coworker about Downton Abbey instead. There goes your treadmill time—and your productivity.

So: We know we're not supposed to sit all day. But the extreme opposite (walking while working) doesn't seem to help either. Prize for the first person who figures out what we are supposed to do.

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(Image credit: Photo: Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

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Megan Friedman

Megan Friedman is the former managing editor of the Newsroom at Hearst. She's worked at NBC and Time, and is a graduate of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism.