Walk Hard

With this contraption, getting your work done can be a moving experience

If walking and chewing gum at the same time trips you up, then the thought of walking and simultaneously preparing a PowerPoint presentation has to sound nuts. But there's really nothing to it, says Dave Kagan, director of marketing communications and product launch for Details, a Steelcase company based in Grand Rapids, Mich. The company offers an apparatus called the Walkstation that is designed to make just that kind of multitasking possible, and, according to Kagan, field reports confirm that even the self-professed klutziest of users walk away impressed with themselves after giving it a whirl.

Introduced in October 2007, the Walkstation is the brainchild of Mayo Clinic endocrinologist Dr. James Levine, based on his proprietary research with non-exercise activity thermogenesis (N.E.A.T.™). Levine's thought, in a nutshell, is that if we can work more movement into our regular workaday world (outside of or in addition to the movements involved in deliberate exercise), we will be a healthier and less obese workforce. Envisioning an "office of the future" that includes a treadmill-equipped workstation, Levine took his concept to Steelcase, which thought it was a "neat" idea and ran with it.

"Where are people more sedentary than almost any other place, besides perhaps in the classroom?" asks Kagan. "It's in the corporate workplace. So, Dr. Levine's whole concept is simply to add movement to these otherwise sedentary environments. It's not intended to be cardiovascular exercise — we always have to make that distinction immediately when we're talking to prospective users, because they're usually thinking their experience with the Walkstation will be much like their gym or home treadmill experience, and this is not that. We sweat enough from stress in the workplace without adding a workout to the routine. This is based on just adding movement."

Walk, Don't Run

The treadmill portion of the Walkstation relies on a high-torque motor built for sustaining the slow speeds necessary for the system to work. While the speeds of retail treadmills typically range from 5 to 7 mph, the Walkstation tops out at 2 mph and goes as slowly as 0.3 mph. Kagan notes that a retail-grade treadmill's motor likely would burn out if it were consistently operated at such a slow pace, but the Walkstation is designed specifically for it. The treadmill does not incline, and neither handholds nor rails are part of the setup; if they were needed, the system wouldn't work. Your hands are supposed to remain busy on the keyboard, getting work done.

"Our research has indicated that a speed faster than 2 mph will not allow someone to walk and work at the same time, no matter how healthy it is," Kagan says. "The name of the game in corporate America is productivity, and if this product were to cut into productivity, it would never find traction."

That said, even at 1.2 mph, which is the leisurely average pace of a human on a stroll, an average person will burn around 100 calories in an hour. Equally important to the N.E.A.T. way of thinking, though, are the minimal movements involved with burning those calories — movements necessary merely to stay upright on the Walkstation — because even an hour's worth of such pedestrian activity, done regularly, is reportedly enough to soon result in an increase in energy and productivity.

Relay Paces

Kagan says that with less than two years on the market, Walkstations have so far found homes mainly at wellness-minded companies using them primarily as a shared resource, with employees signing up to use the machine in one- or two-hour increments before returning to their regular workstations. Such communal usage makes the second component of the contraption — its adjustable-height work surface — all important.

Six different sizes of Walkstation are available, and the work surfaces — or "AdjusTables," as Details refers to them — on all are proportioned for limited reach. A push of a button is all it takes to raise or lower the surface to fit the user's height, taking less time to make the ergonomic adjustment than it takes to put on walking shoes. The AdjusTable on one model, the Sit-to- Walkstation, lowers all the way to a sitting level and accommodates the use of a chair for those who want to move from standing or walking to sitting at different times in the workday.

"The Walkstation really represents an entirely different way to work — a healthier way to work — and it represents an entirely different way for designers to design work spaces," Kagan says. "The kind of change it represents doesn't just happen overnight. It's definitely catching on, but it's not the sort of thing where you introduce it and all of a sudden you get this huge spike in sales. It's a slow, steady growth kind of thing, but it's such a paradigm shift that it's going to take a while for that change to really gain a foothold."

To see the station in action and view ergonomic tips related to using it, visit www.details-worktools.com.

This article originally appeared in the August 2009 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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