Get your workout at work — without even leaving your desk

I love it when I come across a study that has the potential to really change the status quo.  In this case I’m talking about making the term “sedentary” obsolete.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates lack of physical activity is actually the 4th leading cause of mortality, killing roughly 3.3 million people every year. And evidence is increasing that people who sit for most of the day are still at an increased risk for serious health problems such as heart disease, poor cognitive function, and mental distress — even if they exercise outside of work.

Yet the sedentary lifestyle continues to grow. In fact, in the last 65 years, the amount of sedentary jobs has risen 83 percent. And currently nearly half (43 percent) of all jobs in the US are considered sedentary.

Of course, one of the biggest arguments against incorporating more physical activity into working hours is that, by nature, these jobs require you to be at your desk. Which isn’t exactly conducive to exercise.

But what if there was a way you could move throughout the day right at your desk? It may become a reality sooner than you think.

Things like standing desks are becoming more common. And I’ve even seen a few people using treadmill “desks.” But a new study published in last month’s American Journal of Preventive Medicine looked at an even simpler solution. One allows you to get more activity at your desk without completely changing your office furniture.

This study involved 27 sedentary workers who volunteered to have a portable pedaling device placed under their desks. Then researchers monitored the amount of time they spent pedaling over the next 16 weeks. They found that each participant logged an average of 50 minutes of pedaling time every day. Seventy percent of the volunteers also chose to keep their pedaling devices at the end of the study, which was a good indication that this small change in routine had a lasting effect.

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

That’s why the researchers looked for a device that was discreet and easy to use, without making the worker feel self-conscious and without disrupting co-workers.

What I like about this study is that it’s a good example of taking small steps toward making physical activity a normal part of the day.

While it’s not totally practical for everyone to have a pedaling machine at their desk, the mindset of incorporating activity into the workday without disrupting productivity is hopefully becoming more mainstream.

The main point here is to take regular breaks throughout the day. Just setting a timer as a reminder to get up every hour and refill your water bottle is a good start. Then as you get used to more activity, maybe a couple of times a week on your lunch break take short 10-minute laps around the block or around the halls when it’s raining.

If you are interested in a desk pedaling device like the ones used in the study, they’re widely available and affordable (a quick search on turned up dozens of options — many of them well under $100).

Once again, a little movement during the workday can go a long way in keeping you healthy.


Lucas J. Carr, Christoph Leonhard, Sharon Tucker, Nathan Fethke, Roberto Benzo, Fred Gerr. Total Worker Health Intervention Increases Activity of Sedentary Workers. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2015.06.022 <>.