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
"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
"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.
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
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.