US scientists who observed obese office workers working at a walking workstation, a combination of a stand up desk and a treadmill, suggest that a few hours a day of walking whilst working could help them lose 20 to 30 kilos (44 to 66 pounds) a year assuming they did not overeat at the same time.

The study is published in the early online edition of the British Journal of Sports Medicine

It has been suggested that one way to tackle the rising problem of obesity is to find ways to increase physical activity among workers with sedentary occupations. Many people spend most of their working day sitting in front of a computer screen. What if they could work at a computer and walk at the same time? Could this be a way to burn off enough calories to make a difference? This was the thinking behind the experiment performed by two scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, US.

Researchers James Levine and Jennifer Miller designed a vertical work station that allows an office worker to use a computer while walking on a treadmill at a speed of their choice. The machine looks like a regular treadmill superimposed with a metal frame that holds a desk area in front with adjustable arms holding a screen and keyboard with mouse.

The participants were 15 obese office workers in their forties, one man and 14 women, who took no regular exercise. Their average Body Mass Index (BMI) was 32.

The scientists measured their energy expenditure while at rest, sitting in a chair, while standing still, and while walking on the vertical work station at a speed of their choice. They used the participants’ exhaled breath to measure energy expenditure. Weight loss or gain was not assessed.

They found that the average amount of energy the participants burned while seated at a desk was 72 kcal per hour. This compared to 191 kcal per hour when they worked and walked at a speed of their choice (average walking speed was 1.1 miles per hour).

The difference in energy expenditure between sitting at a desk and walking while working was 119 kcal per hour.

The researchers concluded that:

“If sitting computer-time were replaced by walking-and-working, energy expenditure might increase by 100 kcal/hour. Thus, if obese individuals were to replace sitting computer time with walking computer time, by two-three hours per day and if other components of energy balance were constant, weight loss of 20-30 kg/year could occur.”

Last year Dr Levine, as director of the Active Life research team at the Mayo Clinic working on ways to tackle obesity in children, was involved in the design of a new type of school environment where children were more physically active while learning. This also included a standing desk concept.

“The energy expenditure of using a “walk-and-work” desk for office-workers with obesity.”
James A Levine and Jennifer Miller.
Br J Sports Med. Published Online First: 15 May 2007.

Click here for Abstract.

Click here to read an Associated Press report on the “Active Classroom” where kids are encouraged to fidget, sway and burn calories at their stand up desks (MSNBC, March 2006).

Written by: Catharine Paddock
Writer: Medical News Today