March 3, 2006

Walk While You Work: Researcher

By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Workers of the world, walk. Fueled by research conducted by a Mayo Clinic obesity specialist, some U.S. workers are spending their days on treadmills or indoor tracks, walking as they talk on the telephone, send e-mails and even hold meetings.

"I'm speaking to you at one mile an hour on a treadmill in my office in front of my computer," said Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Rochester, Minnesota, medical college, whose research has fueled the nascent movement. "I do all my work here."

A walking worker can burn 100 calories (0.4184 kilojoules) an hour or as many as 800 calories (3.3472 kj) a day, said Levine, whose research has appeared in the journal Science and medical journals.

All that calorie-burning could help desk-bound workers, whose obesity-related health problems cost businesses money, he argued.

His research is based on a theory nicknamed NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis, founded on the idea that people burn energy on mundane, day-to-day tasks and movements.

Using NEAT, Levine has designed offices to keep workers on the move, with treadmills outfitted with desks, computers and telephones, and office walking tracks, marked by lines on the floor, so colleagues can walk while they hold meetings.

"It's absolutely logical to target the workplace as a fundamental place to get healthy," he said.

Levine said he knows of no company building treadmills along his designs, although a few have expressed interest. Instead, word is spread on the Internet sites and on blogs.

One fresh convert to walking while working is Thomas Niccum, president of Lancet Software in Burnsville, Minnesota, who created his office treadmill at the start of this year.

He estimates he has walked about 120 miles on the job since then. In the process, he lost five 5 pounds (2.27 kilograms) without dieting.

He admits that while his colleagues stop and look at his set-up, no one else has signed up for an office treadmill.

"People do look at you weird or funny," he said. "It takes a little effort to do it, so a lot of people just aren't going to going to bother.

Another advocate is Dr. Joseph Stirt, an anesthesiologist in Charlottesville, Virginia, who estimates he spends eight to 12 hours a day working and walking on his treadmill in his home office.

"You will become addicted," he said. "When I turn the treadmill off at night, it's so unpleasant. Sitting in a chair, working, is so unpleasant, you might as well be dead."

Stirt said he even walks an hour a day in reverse, figuring he can exercise his quadriceps walking forward and his hamstrings walking backward.

A "walking-while-working" proselytizer, Stirt said he wishes he could take his treadmill into the community hospital operating room and do his job there while he paces.

"The nurses haven't seemed real excited about it so far," he said. "But give me time."