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Getting physical working at your desk

Josh Baldonado, an administrative assistant at Brown &

Josh Baldonado, an administrative assistant at Brown & Brown Insurance, works this past month at a treadmill desk in the firms offices in Carmel, Ind. Research is showing that being nailed to a chair in a cubicle for seven to eight hours a day is dangerous to health. (Aug. 28, 2013) Credit: AP

Glued to your desk at work? Cross that off the list of reasons not to exercise.

A growing number of Americans are standing, walking and even cycling their way through the workday at treadmill desks, standup desks or other moving workstations.

Walking on a treadmill while making phone calls and sorting through emails means "being productive on two fronts," said Andrew Lockerbie, senior vice president of benefits at Brown & Brown, a global insurance consulting firm.

Lockerbie can burn 350 calories a day walking 3 to 4 miles on one of two treadmill desks that his company's Indianapolis office purchased earlier this year. "It's great to be able to have an option at my work to get some physical activity while I'm actually doing office stuff," he said.

Treadmill desks designed for the workplace are normally set to move at 1 to 2 miles per hour, enough to get the heart rate up slightly but not too fast to distract from reading or talking on the phone comfortably. But some experts frown on the trend.

"It's absolutely crazy," Cynthia Roth, chief executive of Ergonomic Technologies Corp. in Albertson, said in a recent interview with Newsday. "You can't concentrate if you're worried about something else. You can't be on a treadmill and not concentrate, because before you know it, you're going to be off that treadmill. If you're trying to work, you're distracted."

The push to avoid too much sitting emerged as scientific studies over the past decade showed it can lead to obesity and increase the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Even going to the gym three times a week doesn't offset the harm of being sedentary for hours at a time, said Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic.

"There's a glob of information that sitting is killing us," Levine said. "You're basically sitting yourself into a coffin."

More companies are intrigued by the idea of helping employees stay healthy -- especially if it means lower insurance costs and higher productivity, said Levine, a supporter of the moving workstations. "Even walking at 1 mile an hour has very substantial benefits," Levine said, such as doubling metabolic rate and improving blood sugar levels.

Sales at Indianapolis-based TreadDesk are expected to increase 25 percent this year as large corporations, including Microsoft, Coca Cola, United Healthcare and Procter & Gamble have started buying the workstations in bulk, said Jerry Carr, the company's president.

At LifeSpan Fitness, based in Salt Lake City, sales of treadmill desks more than tripled over 2012, said president Peter Schenk. "We don't see the growth slowing down for several years, as right now we are just moving from early adopters . . . to more mainstream users."

With bicycle desks or desk cycles, workers can pedal their way through the day on a small stationary bike mounted under their desks.

Treadmill desks can range from $800 to $5,000 or more. Desk cycles start as low as $149 for models that can fit under an existing desk but can run $1,400 or more for those with a desk built in.

Georges Harik, founder of Web-based instant messaging service imo.im in Palo Alto, Calif., bought two treadmill desks for his 20-person office to share three years ago.

"I do it when I can," he said. "Sometimes it's not possible if you're really thinking hard or programming a lot. But this sort of low-grade activity that keeps people from being sedentary probably helps extend their lives by a few years."

Still, Harik said some workers find it too distracting to walk while they work, and some feel they are just not coordinated enough to multitask as they exercise.

With Nicole Levy

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