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How to Walk 10,000 Steps a Day If You’re a Desk Jockey


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walk 10,000 steps
Taking regular walking breaks can help you log more steps in your day.
treadmill desk

Everybody knows how important physical activity is to health. But recent research has indicated that sitting too much is harmful on its own – even if you’re getting adequate exercise when you’re not sitting. One meta-analysis involving 18 studies and over 800,000 subjects found that those who sat the most had a 2-fold higher risk of diabetes, a 2.5-fold higher risk of heart disease, a 90% higher risk of death from heart disease and a 50% higher risk of death from all causes when compared to those that sat the least. (1) Other studies have shown that sitting for too long shuts down the circulation of lipase, a fat absorbing enzyme. (2)

One way of avoiding the perils of sitting too long if you work at a desk is to use a standing desk, or an adjustable desk that can be moved back and forth between sitting and standing configurations. There’s a lot of research suggesting that standing is an improvement over sitting, particularly in the realm of fat-burning. However, standing for too long may also pose risks. Standing for prolonged periods has been linked to an increase in hypertension, chronic heart and circulatory disorders and lower limb problems. (3) This makes sense from an evolutionary perspective: just as it wasn’t natural for our ancestors to sit for prolonged periods, it wasn’t natural for them to stand for long periods either.

If both sitting and standing for too long are harmful, what’s the solution?

One possibility is a treadmill desk. (I’m writing this blog post on one right now!) This is superior to both standing and sitting desks because walking at a slow pace for relatively long distances is something we are genetically and physiologically adapted to. Studies of healthy traditional populations have shown they averaged about 10,000 steps a day (4), and observational studies of contemporary populations suggest that healthy adults take between 7,000 – 13,000 steps a day. (5) These studies also emphasized the importance of distributing this activity throughout the day; taking 10,000 steps before work and then sitting for 8 hours straight will not have the same benefits as taking 10,000 steps throughout the course of a day.

How I set up a treadmill desk

There are many ways to do this. I’ll show you how I did it, and link to a few other possibilities. I’m hoping those of you who have used other methods can leave a comment, and I’ll continue to update the post so it becomes the “definitive” treadmill desk post. Note that I had a standing desk for a while before I bought the treadmill; had I started from scratch, I may have done things differently.

I started with a Safco standing desk, which I bought from Amazon. This desk was the right height for me and is one of the few standing desks that had a slide-out keyboard tray, which is very important ergonomically. You want the keyboard to be at roughly elbow level or a few inches below, but the monitors should be at eye level. That isn’t possible with a desk that has a single surface.

Then I bought a treadmill from TreadDesk. I was hoping it would fit underneath my desk, but unfortunately it is about a half inch too wide. Also, since the treadmill is about 4.5 inches off the ground, that changed the ergonomics of the standing desk. The keyboard tray was now too low, and the monitors were below eye level. I solved the monitor problem by propping them up with 4″ thick medical textbooks (knew they would come in handy!). I was already using the mStand for my Macbook Pro, but I had to put a textbook under that one as well.

Find out how to stay fit and healthy if you work at a desk. Tweet This

The next step was to figure out the keyboard tray. I did some research and discovered the 3M Knob-Adjust Keyboard Tray. This is a crucial part of the set-up for two reasons. First, it attaches to the underside of the desk and extends out about 12-14 inches. Because the treadmill doesn’t fit under the desk, it’s necessary to have a keyboard tray that extends out to where I’m walking on the treadmill. Second, for optimal ergonomics keyboard trays should be tilted at a negative angle (i.e. slightly down and away from you). This allows a nice parallel/horizontal line between your forearms and wrists, rather than extending your wrists continually which is what most people do when they type and is partially responsible for repetitive stress injuries. I can’t tell you how much more comfortable it is to type with a negative tilt keyboard. This keyboard also comes with a tray you can attach to either the right or left side with a built-in mousepad.

20000 steps

The final bill including the treadmill, keyboard tray and standing desk was a little over $1,000.

So how’s it working? I’ve only had it for a few days, but I can say it’s had the single biggest impact on my sense of well-being than any other change I’ve made in years. I feel so much better at the end of a workday. Standing was certainly better than sitting, but I prefer walking to standing by a mile (ah, hem). Speaking of miles, yesterday I wrote about 3,000 words on my book and did some phone consulting with patients – and logged about 10 miles (20,000 steps; see my FitBit read-out in the picture at right) in the process! I walk at about 1.5 mph on the treadmill, so I was on my treadmill desk for a little over 6 miles. I spent a couple hours at my sitting desk as well.

Other options for treadmill desks

There are many other options out there for treadmill desks, depending on your set-up.

The Kangaroo is a good option for those of you who have limited space and don’t want to have a separate standing and sitting desk. It integrates with your existing desktop. All you’d need after that is a treadmill to put under your desk. One thing I’m not sure of is whether the keyboard tray can be tilted at a negative angle. From the picture it doesn’t look like it, but maybe someone that has one can let us know. Ergo Desktop, the company that makes the Kangaroo, has several other similar options on their site.

Another option along these same lines is an adjustable desk, such as the Geek Desk. They have electric motors that move the desk up and down depending on whether you’re sitting or standing. The downside of adjustable desks is they tend to be much more expensive than fixed height desks.

If you already have a treadmill, and just need a desk to go with it, the TrekDesk is a good option. It fits around your treadmill and provides a large work surface. Note: this appears to have only a single work surface, which isn’t optimal ergonomically. I’m not sure if you can attach a keyboard tray or not, because the desk is plastic.

If you’re starting from scratch, and you want to have separate sitting and standing workstations, LifeSpan makes an “all-in-one” treadmill desk that gets good reviews on Amazon.

Finally, if you want a desk where the treadmill actually fits under it, and you don’t need it to be adjustable, TreadDesk sells a them in different heights.

What if a treadmill desk isn’t an option?

Of course not everyone will be able to use a treadmill desk. Many companies probably wouldn’t allow them (not yet, at least), and their significant cost is another barrier.

The best approach if you can’t use a treadmill desk is simply to take frequent breaks to move your body throughout the day. Set a timer for 20-30 minutes when you’re sitting at your desk. When it goes off, stand up and take a short walk around. If possible, walk a couple flights of stairs, do some stretching or better yet, some more intense activity like jumping rope or running in place. 2-3 minutes of this kind of activity is enough to mitigate the negative effects of prolonged sitting. Then set the timer again when you sit back down.

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Chris Kresser in kitchen
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Join the conversation

  1. “Then I bought a treadmill from TreadDesk. I was hoping it would fit underneath my desk, but unfortunately it is about a half inch too wide.”

    How did you solve this part? Or did I miss it in the article?

    I have a safeco I haven’t put together yet, and hesitant to get the treadmill you got if it’s not going to fit.

    • I got a keyboard tray that extends from the desk, so it’s no longer important for the treadmill to actually go under the desk. I love the keyboard tray because it has a negative tilt, which is better for the wrists.

  2. Hi Chris, I just recently heard about a treadmill desk. I was so intrigued and immediately knew this was right for me. I ordered mine from LifeSpan (model TR1200-DT5). I’ve only had it two days, but I love it! Yesterday I walked over 12,000 steps (5 miles) while working for 4 hours. This would have been 4 hours just sitting. It is not at all difficult to type and walk. I don’t even know I’m walking. I spend a lot of time working at the computer (also writing a book). My friends thought I was crazy and said “don’t you already get enough exercise?” Typically I might run 5 miles in the morning, but then I sit for hours upon hours the rest of the day. I don’t see this as an alternative to exercise, I see it as an alternative to sitting. I love my treadmill desk!

  3. I made my own treadmill desk to use when I’m working from home, browsing online, or watching TV. I used this treadmill (http://www.amazon.com/Confidence-Power-Motorized-Electric-Treadmill/dp/B004TGWUPE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363659583&sr=8-1&keywords=confidence+treadmill) and this adjustable table (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B001JK68UG/ref=pe_175190_21431760_M3T1_ST1_dp_1). The total cost was around $300. The base of the table fits under the treadmill and the table top rests on the treadmill arms, which is just the right height for me with my laptop (I’m 5′ 6″). It works great – the treadmill isn’t as big/sturdy as most but I’ve gotten used to the size and I like that I can move it easily. I’ve also have an old drafting table that I use as a standing desk when I need more space to spread out.

  4. This may be a silly question, but what about simply walking in place in front of a standing desk? I have one of those Steelcase sit-stand workstations (I’m actually not thrilled with it; the monitor tends to bounce around slightly with every stroke on my keyboard, and the whole thing was a bear to put together, not to mention very expensive), and while I’ve thought of buying a treadmill sometimes I just walk in place while I’m working. I also shift my weight from side to side and occasionally do shallow knee-bends. I have varicose veins in one leg so I can’t stand still for long, but I find that walking in place allows me to work standing up for longer periods of time. Obviously a treadmill would force me to walk continuously, but for those who can’t afford it, walking in place might be a viable alternative.

    • I got a standing desk and for a week thought it was great. Then just standing wasn’t enough and i was jealous of walkers.

      So I started walking in place.

      I got a pedometer app (runtastic.com) which is logging every step.

      I took it to my local gym to test on the treadmill and get about my average walking speed and set the faux “stride length”.

      So I walk at a moderate pace equivalent, about 3mph what i would on a warm up or cool down paired with a run at the gym treadmill.

      Yesterday was the first day i truly felt a caloric deficit thanks to all the walking.

      Check out the runtastic.com stats that are tracked through the mobile app:


    • Chris-
      I have the same question. Can you simply walk in place at a standing desk as an effective substitute for a treadmill?

  5. Great idea! I do home health and travel patient to patient all day and do all my paperwork at a standing desk at home. I’m going to add a treadmill underneath and hope it works.
    Now, the question is, can you get the IRS to accept that it is a piece of necessary office equipment and deduct it as such?

  6. Chris,

    I’ve been using the Kangaroo desk for nearly a year after hearing you talk about standing desks. Have been very happy with it and frankly never take it back to sitting position. At you recommendation just bought the TreadDesk and am in my first 20 minutes on it. So far I like it. I spend way too much time in front of my computer (work from from home office) and I’m really looking forward to this. Thanks for all you do — you have made a huge difference in my life!


    • That’s fantastic, Rob! Keep us posted. I’m typing this comment on my TreadDesk. 🙂

  7. I have a Steelcase WalktoSit workstation desk. It is a large pneumetic desk with a integrated treadmill at one end and a large enough surface so I can have a normal office chair at the other end. Cost a pretty penny $3k ish, but worth every Cent! I walk at a slow pace 2-3 hours every workday and take small sitting breaks at various times. I would to walk all day long, but my feet get tired. Highly recommend! Just wish I could have gotten my company to help with the cost 🙁

  8. I have been using a standing desk for a couple of years and I like it a lot. I don’t think our office can afford a treadmill set-up. What do you think about walking in place or doing some short breaks to do some jumping in place (maybe 30 seconds every 20 minutes of standing)? Thanks

  9. I have also set up a treadmill desk in my home office. It’s a rather cheap setup actually, I got a manual treadmill for around 150 euros, and above it I simply attached a rather solid plank to the wall which serves as a desktop. Admittedly, all is adjusted to my height and I can’t change it, but I don’t see any need to do so in the near future. The manual treadmill works fine, I do not have to take energy from the net just because I want to burn extra energy, and walking slowly keeps me focused while working. It’s great for writing long and difficult research articles 🙂

  10. I’ve used the TrekDesk for over a year. At $1299, the price was fair. The generous work surface can be adjusted to your best height and the treadmill goes up to 4 mph-no incline available. I can easily walk 4 mph whilst viewing videos, at 2.5 mph for repetitive task like completing patient charts, and 1-1.5 mph for tasks requiring more concentration such as photo editing. This usually adds up to an additional 20-30 miles of walking per week!!

  11. I used a stand up desk for about a year and loved it; however, I developed a case of edema in both legs and gave it up on the advice of my doctor. I’d love to try the treadmill but no way that will happen in my little government cubicle.

  12. I’ve been standing PT for close to a year now, and FT for months, with my laptop on my kitchen counter, and I find that it’s easier for me to get up and walk around if I’m already standing than if I’m sitting.

    I was surprised at how long it took me to adjust, muscle-wise, and the wear and tear on my already strong feet. It would not have been possible for me to stand this much if I hadn’t switched to going barefoot first.

    Treadmills do not tempt me at all. I’d rather do squats or some other more serious exercise. Of course, I’m at home and don’t have to worry about what people think.

  13. Hey Chris!
    I’m interested in getting a treadmill desk not only for myself, but also for my dog! For a long time I’ve planned on getting a treadmill for my dog, and after hearing how beneficial a treadmill desk is for you, I thought that this would be great: Ideally I would love to have a treadmill desk that was big enough for the both of us so I could walk my dog while I work. What are your thoughts about this?

  14. Chris, you hit on a topic near and dear to my heart. In addition to the reversed leg muscle mechanics of using a treadmill vs walking on solid ground, it can also cause motion sickness (much the way that being a car can) for people with vestibular issues (history of head trauma or heavy antibiotic usage are typical history items).

    Studies have also shown that cognitive performance declines if you ask people to do work while on a treadmill (because the body has to give over a certain amount of brainpower just to staying on the silly thing) – it’s the same factors at play as why we turn down the radio in the car when we are or why we tend to slow down when we walk when we’re trying to solve a complex problem.

    But, as you also mentioned in the comments, for truly sedentary individuals, this may be better than nothing (again, MAY BE).

    Personally, I alternate between sitting and my standing desk, frequently changing throughout the day based upon task and my energy level. One of the curiosities of my standing desk is that I find that I rarely just stand, rather I fidget and am more likely to wander around to solve whatever problem is on my brain.

  15. Hi Chris,

    After seeing the results of those studies about a year ago, I started standing and walking every twenty minutes. I felt my mood, health and weight improving up until a few weeks ago. Now I have pain in both upper legs – not very strong, but annoying and worst of all: it gets worse when I stand or walk for more than a few minutes. Now my mood and health have started deteriorating again. What shall I do? Do I need lots of rest? How much? Any other advice?

    Keep up the great work!
    Michael, Berlin, Germany

  16. I put my PC on a bar-table counter and do Single-leg Knee Bending (Stand on one foot with a slight bend in your knee. Hold your other foot off the ground behind you. Your head, shoulders, hip, knee and ankle should be vertically stacked. Keep your chest lifted and shoulders tipped back. Your pelvis should face straight ahead and your right and left hips should be level) from now and then. I can also do waist twisting & swinging, or simply standing one-legged. I feel great!

  17. Hi Chris,
    I created my own stand-up desk several years ago with a tea-tray on my desk and a laptop stand on top of that. I could just fold the tea-tray legs to take it down to normal height. I use a large garden kneeling pad as a cushion to stand on since the floors in my office are just carpet over concrete. I’ve used this set-up for such a long time that my boss decided to get me a real stand-up desk for a holiday gift. It attaches to to the existing desktop and was only $399 on Amazon. It is incredibly sturdy and easy to adjust. http://www.ergotron.com/ProductsDetails/tabid/65/PRDID/562/language/en-US/Default.aspx

    The cool thing about the way it adjusts is that if I ever do add a treadmill tucked under the desk (which I would love to do), I would just move the adjustable desk up a few inches.

  18. Hi Chris,

    I started using a standing workstation setup a little over a year ago around the time I started my website. Back then I just stacked my laptop on top of a milk crate and many reams of printer paper. Now I’m a little more sophisticated…I’ve got a desktop computer sitting on the top shelf of a converted TV stand (which is on top of a desk) with the mouse and keyboard on the middle shelf, tower and printer on the bottom shelf.

    I’m building a water distillation apparatus…are there any treadmills on the market that would be able to generate electricity to power it? 🙂

    (for more information about distilled water, see my article “Water Of Love” here: http://thecalmcanaryblog.blogspot.com/2012/11/who-i-wouldnt-trust-with-glass-of-water.html)


    John (The Calm Canary of http://thecalmcanaryblog.blogspot.com/)