Forget Whistling, Walk While You Work!

March 04, 2015

The research is clear and strong; sitting is hazardous to our health. When I tell my students or colleagues this while they are sitting in class or in a meeting, they respond with a defeated look. What can they do? Unfortunately, the environment in which most of us work and learn is not designed to promote an active lifestyle. In fact, recent research based on objectively measured data (i.e. not based on how much physical activity someone thinks they did, but based on an accelerometer that will not lie) from over 160 office workers showed that office workers were sitting for 10.6 hours per day, regardless of the day of the week.1 This means that our weekday habits are sticking with us on the weekend. Data also show that these sedentary habits stick with us after we leave the workplace and retire2. More importantly, as adults we are sitting 8 hours more per day than the recommended 2 hours per day. That is a dangerous amount of sitting. We must reduce the amount of time we are spending sitting, and preferably, replace it with physical activity.

Workplace physical activity research has primarily focused on the benefits to the individual, but significant advantages have also been noted for the employer. For example, a study conducted on 40 office workers found that treadmill workstations that were set at a speed of 0-2mph (that’s walking at a 30 minute mile pace!) led to significant increases in physical activity and work performance. Individuals increased their daily caloric expenditure by an average of 74 calories and decreased sedentary time significantly.3 A similar study showed that such an intervention can lead to an increase in 1622 steps per day, a decrease in sedentary time by 3.6 minutes/hour and an increase in light intensity physical activity by 1.6 minutes/hour.4 If you work an 8 hour day in the office, that is a reduction of approximately 30 minutes of sedentary time. It may not seem like a lot, but the health benefits of such a reduction are significant. A systematic review of treadmill workstations showed that the physiological health benefits derived from such interventions were diverse and significant.5 Use of treadmill workstations were associated with improved blood glucose levels, cholesterol levels and body composition.

It is clear that your health will improve by reducing sitting time at work. A simple way to do this is by using a treadmill workstation. But will your employer provide this? Here is some evidence you can use to convince them that it is worth the investment. Research shows that use of a treadmill workstation does not impair cognitive tasks6 nor does it impair typing performance if under 2.25km/h7. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that workplace physical activity interventions are associated with lower absenteeism, lower work stress, and better job satisfaction.8 All of these will positively influence productivity…and loyalty.

For those of you who work in an office setting where treadmill desks are not an option, do not fret! There are a plethora of workplace physical activity interventions that are effective and enjoyable. You can start a walking club, set up a track around your building (or inside your building for winter months) and have walking meetings, reduce your sedentary time by getting up from your chair every half hour to stretch or do a resistance band exercise. The options are unlimited. So instead of getting down about your sedentary office job, think of it as an opportunity to be creative and active!

Regardless of where you work, the evidence on workplace physical activity interventions, particularly walking at work, is growing, and as the evidence grows, workplaces will have to evolve.


  1. Smith L, Hamer M, Ucci M, Marmot A, Gardner B, Sawyer A, Wardle J, Fisher A. Weekday and weekend patterns of objectively measured sitting, standing, and stepping in a sample of office-based workers: the active buildings study. BMC Public Health. 2015 Jan 17;15(1):9.
  2. Copeland JL, Clarke JC, Dogra S. Objectively measured and self-reported leisure sedentary time in older Canadians. Prev Med Rep. 2015;2:90–95.
  3. Ben-Ner A, Hamann DJ, Koepp G, Manohar CU, Levine J. Treadmill workstations: the effects of walking while working on physical activity and work performance. PLoS One. 2014 Feb 20;9(2):e88620.
  4. Schuna JM Jr, Swift DL, Hendrick CA, Duet MT, Johnson WD, Martin CK, Church TS, Tudor-Locke C. Evaluation of a workplace treadmill desk intervention: a randomized controlled trial. J Occup Environ Med. 2014 Dec;56(12):1266-76.
  5. MacEwen BT, MacDonald DJ, Burr JF. A systematic review of standing and treadmill desks in the workplace. Prev Med. 2015 Jan;70C:50-58.
  6. Alderman BL, Olson RL, Mattina DM. Cognitive function during low-intensity walking: a test of the treadmill workstation. J Phys Act Health. 2014 May;11(4):752-8.
  7. Funk RE, Taylor ML, Creekmur CC, Ohlinger CM, Cox RH, Berg WP. Effect of walking speed on typing performance using an active workstation. Percept Mot Skills. 2012 Aug;115(1):309-18.
  8. Pronk NP, Kottke TE. Physical activity promotion as a strategic corporate priority to improve worker health and business performance. Prev Med. 2009 Oct;49(4):316-21. 


Guest Contributor: Dr. Shilpa Dogra

Dr. Shilpa DograAbout Dr. Shilpa Dogra:
 Shilpa Dogra is an Assistant Professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in the Faculty of Health Sciences, Kinesiology. She is also a Certified Exercise Physiologist with the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology and has several peer-reviewed publications in the area of sedentary behaviour research.

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