Move over, stand-up desks and balance ball chairs and make room for pedal desks — the latest gadget aimed at making office life more strenuous.
Lynne Kenney, a pediatric psychologist in Scottsdale, Arizona, says her pedal desk lets her get in a workout while getting her work done. “I sit for many hours some days writing and I don’t like to sit still so I pedal for hours on end,” she said.
Not only does the pedal desk help her stay active — she logs about 6,000 steps just pedaling — but she says the exercise keeps her alert and helps her avoid that three o’clock slump that many office workers face after lunch. She said she has no problem paying attention while using a pedal desk and writing and it’s much easier to stay focused while pedaling than when she’s standing.
But pedal desks also do more than just help you with your aerobic exercise, according to a new pilot study released Monday. It found pedaling under a desk has major health benefits, including preventing obesity, diabetes and heart disease through insulin resistance.
University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers studied 12 overweight full-time sedentary office workers, six men and six women, in two phases: while pedaling at a “self-selected” light intensity pace for two hours and again without pedaling. Insulin levels were lower for those who used the pedal desk.
The desks are a good alternative for people who don’t have time to go to the gym before or after work, said Stuart Chipkin, an endocrinologist at UMass Amherst’s School of Public Health and Health Sciences. “We chose to consider integrating physical activity into the workday,” he said.
The University of Massachusetts Amherst study said workers’ competency was not affected when pedaling. The researchers analyzed participants’ mouse proficiency, typing speed and accuracy, reading comprehension and concentration. Their findings were published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
Comparatively, standing desks and treadmill desks are not as beneficial because people run the risk of standing for too long. With pedaling desks, people can go at their own pace, the researchers said.
This isn’t the first study touting the benefits of pedal desks. An analysis of 18 full-time employees published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2011 also said portable pedal machines countered the harmful effects of sitting at a desk all day.
The risks associated with being sedentary include heart attack, stroke or dementia. It can even negatively affect memory, UCLA researchers found.
Pedal desks can cost anywhere from $50 to $400, depending on the technology and size. Some look like a stationary exercise bike with a laptop stuck on top of it, while others are simply a pair of pedals that sit discreetly under someone’s desk or table. Some come with a pedometer to track how many miles and calories were burned.
Any bit of exercise helps. The federal government announced new physical activity guidelines for Americans on Monday.
The Department of Health and Human Services now says any exercise will help you stay healthy, even if your weekly quota is all on the same day. (Previously, the government agency said people would see health benefits if they worked out in intervals of at least 10 minutes).
But good news for pedal desk users: The government’s new guidelines said that working out numerous times a week is still better for short-term health and wellness, including lower blood pressure and maintaining appropriate weight. For some, the desk pedaling also helps with mental clarity. “The biggest thing I’ve gotten out of it is the ability to focus better and be engaged in my writing and my reading,” Kenney told MarketWatch.
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