Exercise desks and motion-sensing furniture: The new realm of active office products

June 18, 20164 Minute Read

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With Americans becoming more aware of the obesity epidemic in our country, a whole new category of products have hit the marketplace to help us become less sedentary at work. Treadmill exercise desks have been around for a while, but as new products proliferate the market, it leaves many wondering: Do people really use these things? And if so, what are the benefits to the business?

We spoke with Leigh Stringer, LEED AP, a workplace strategy expert with EYP Architecture and Engineering. Between her day job (helping clients create workplace environments that enhance well-being and human performance) and her side job (researching and launching a book, The Healthy Workplace: How to Improve the Well-Being of Your Employees—and Boost Your Company’s Bottom Line), she brings incredible insight into this market.

According to Stringer, the best product examples seen through her years of research are some you’ve maybe seen, maybe used, and maybe never imagined.

The treadmill desk

Probably the most obvious “exercise desk” product is the original treadmill desk. Stringer says, “While I have seen these products work well for some people, for others, they are not as useful. Just as some people can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, not everyone can work and walk. Several employers are nervous about the use of such devices because of the risk of falls. Still, there are a growing number of companies trying out treadmill desks.”

Biking stations

Another popular item is the bike desk or pedal desk. Products such as this one from DeskCycle are another option for working while exercising your leg muscles. According to Stringer, “It really comes down to personal preference as to which product will work for you. I recently saw a bike charging station at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. In order to charge your phone, you had to pedal.” It was a healthy and a sustainable solution at the same time.

Sit-to-stand desks

Recognized as the most advanced (but not the most affordable) solution, the Stir Kinetic Desk senses your presence and moves up and down with the simple click of a button, helping users change positions and trade the sedentary position for a more active standing position. Integrated technology helps link users and track data. Many other height-adjustable desk manufacturers are beginning to explore wearables and apps that urge proper use and record data on best practices.

Balance balls

There are many variations of the “balance ball chair,” such as this one from Gaiam that helps build your core muscles while working. Stringer says, “Some of these furniture options have been around for a while, although they certainly are getting more attention lately. The truth is, your stomach muscles can only hold you upright on these for so long. After about 30 minutes on a balance ball, most people become fatigued, and if you stay seated on one all day, it can have a detrimental effect on your posture. The best solution would be to have a real chair and a ball to switch off and on.” Other varieties include “motion chairs” designed to increase exercise and movement, such as the Varier platform, the Humanscale Ballo, or the Via Swopper.

Stability platforms

Although “sitting is the new smoking,” it turns out that standing will be the next new smoking if that’s all we do. The secret is in moving, not just being stagnant in a new position. This line of thought has led to the development of a new platform version of the stability ball for use at standing height desks. One of the newest to hit the market, redesigned with modern office aesthetics in mind, is FluidStance.

It’s the culture, not the equipment

You can give your workers the latest and greatest equipment, but that doesn’t mean they’ll use it. Trends come and go at mind-boggling speed. While some products may be fads, the overall wellness movement is here to stay and likely will become an expected feature, not a perk of the office of the future. In Stringer’s recent interview with Laura Putnam, CEO/Founder of Motion Infusion and author of Workplace Wellness that Works: 10 Steps to Infuse Well-Being and Vitality into Any Organization, she said, “The secret sauce to wellness initiatives that offer the best results are ones that are not programs, but are ‘movements’ started organically in the organization by inspiring leaders and employees.”

When asked about office products, Stringer says she has yet to see health or wellness outcomes met by simply investing in exercise desks. “Companies that are seeing measurable results on the wellness front are making smart investments in their people and creating an organizational culture that is about health and human performance on many fronts, including career and leadership coaching, customized health programs, flexible workplaces, and good, ergonomic furniture,” she says. The benefits to the business, Stringer says, include increased ROI and shareholder price and reduced recruiting costs. “When companies genuinely invest in their people’s health and well-being, they are seeing astounding financial results.”

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