Treadmill Desks Make Inroads From White House Complex To Google

Treadmill desks could become a $1 billion business, according to the chief executive of one maker of the devices. A group of BuzzFeed employees build their street tread by testing one out.

Google, Dairy Queen, the White House complex's New Executive Office Building, Nike, and William Morris Endeavor are among the companies that have hopped on the latest corporate must-have trend: the treadmill desk.

All of those companies, and many others, have purchased treadmill desks for their offices recently, reflecting a burgeoning and promising trend for an American workforce that — speaking from experience — spends a whole lot of time slouching at desks.

Treadmill desks, which have made the jump from home office novelty, are exactly what they sound like: an adjustable-height table attached to a treadmill, which users are recommended to walk on in two-hour increments at a speed of 1.3 miles per hour to 2.3 miles per hour. A New Yorker feature in May by Susan Orlean attracted a wave of attention to the devices — which typically cost $1,300 to $2,000 — and their potential health benefits. The desks have also been featured in Mashable, Forbes, TechCrunch, among others, and they've also been touted by television personalities Jimmy Kimmel and Al Roker.

"Our biggest growth I can say in the last six months has been more from Fortune 200 companies than it has been from smaller companies," Peter Schenk, president of LifeSpan Fitness, a privately held maker of the desks in Salt Lake City, said in an interview with BuzzFeed. "When we originally started selling treadmill desks, it tended to be in a small company environment where a single individual could make a decision for themselves and either bring it in or put it in their home office," he said.

LifeSpan, which began selling treadmill desks in late 2011, declined to specify its revenue beyond saying it makes more than $50 million in annual sales. But the company, which also sells regular treadmills, said "workplace solutions" — including less-popular stationary bicycle desks — represents its fastest-growing segment and half its business. The desks are sold online at OfficeMax and Staples, and Schenk said while the business is in a "gestation period," it could easily turn into a $1 billion industry.

It's not that far-fetched. Research shows that walking 10,000 steps a day can greatly reduce the incidence of heart attacks and rates of cancer and strokes, making treadmill desks a compelling investment for large corporations that are grappling with rising healthcare costs.

"My original career started with IBM in the '90s and the emphasis was about automating everything, eliminating movement from the office, and that's really done a 180," Schenk said.

At BuzzFeed, the LifeSpan treadmill desk was met with some concern by a handful of reporters who feared it would be loud and distracting (luckily, not the case) and confusion by others who had never seen one before. Typically, the desks tend to resonate with long-time professionals over Millennials, who often lead more active lives outside the office.

"They have been in the workplace a long time, seen the effects of themselves getting sedentary for longer periods of times, aches and pains, that sort of thing, whereas a younger Millennial generation hasn't gone through that yet," Schenk said. "It actually takes them longer to get on it and realize, 'I can get everything done I was getting done, there's not really a downside to it.' So, I would say they're less of an early adopter."

Below is a sampling of reviews from BuzzFeed employees who tried out the treadmill desk. Their experiences were largely positive, though it seems to vary depending on how often one works out, attitude towards sitting and one's mortality, and the task at hand.

1. "As we have all read, sitting is going to kill us. And I don't want to die!"

"So the treadmill desk is good because it's going to stop us from dying.

It's also good if you're the kind of person who likes to pace around while brainstorming. In this case, I was doing research for a story, and jotting down ideas. I don't know if I could really write or edit paragraphs while on the treadmill desk.

I also kind of loathe gyms and prefer to exercise outside, so this was maybe the most I've enjoyed a treadmill." — Hillary Reinsberg

2. "I was more inclined to only focus one thing at a time."

"I closed out tabs with NO SENSE OF REMORSE to make sure I was getting one thing done at a time. And I do feel like I got a lot done — although I'm not sure I could write while I was on it. I edited and published two posts — one that was pretty production heavy...

I felt more propelled from task to task, without obsessing over any one thing. Typically I am a perfectionist and slow to accomplish things because they have to be perfect — walking helped with that. There was like, no room in my brain for extra thoughts.

I will definitely use it again. This time though I will wear better clothes/shoes. It was hot." — Emily Fleischaker

3. "It's a good idea, but it was boring."

"I like to go places when I walk. Maybe if I had virtual reality headgear that showed me different environments as I walked, but could still see my computer. Maybe Google Glass could do this, but none of those elitist hacks that sport them have let me try it." — Jordan Zakarin

4. "It was hard concentrating at first because I had to Gchat all of my friends to tell them about the treadmill desk before I could start any work."

"I used the treadmill desk for a little over an hour. I didn't realize how slowly I was moving at first and it felt much better once I was at a comfortable speed. I edited a post for sports and worked on a post about was a good experience overall." — Myles Tanzer

5. "The first time I used the treadmill desk, I was surprised at how well I could focus, especially since I never — never — exercise."

"I worry about sitting all day at work because of all those scary infographics that tell you that will kill you, but I was surprised at how easy it was to make the transition. After I got off, though, it felt like I was college-freshman-grade stoned, and I had this exchange with a co-worker:

me: i have never worked out before
is it normal to feel stoned after
like really stoned, space cake stoned
Joe: lol
thats pathetic
you walked slowly for 30 minutes

Obviously, this thing rules. I want one for my house." — Amy Rose Spiegel

6. "I found the treadmill desk to be a bit tiring, but I did walk on it for two hours."

"As someone who regularly exercise for a couple hours a day, five or six days a week, I would almost certainly avoid the treadmill desk on a day I was planning on working out. For days you don't go for the gym and want to sneak in a small calorie burn while in the office I would recommend the treadmill desk. It's a bit gimmicky though and not something I think I would do every day. Having it as an option to work out on a couple of days a week, however, would be nice." — Andrew Kaczynski

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