How to Walk 10,000 Steps a Day If You're a Desk Jockey | Chris Kresser
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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 deskEverybody 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.

  1. I don’t have a standing or treadmill desk now, but I want to tell everyone that you can DIY your own desk. I have a normal height desk that is just made from a large piece of shelving, which forms the top surface, and some modular storage bins that form the legs. It was so much cheaper than a premade desk, more roomy, and if I wanted to turn it into a standing or ‘exercise’ desk, all I’d need to do would be to add more storage bins for height. (And maybe figure out a rig for the keyboard.) For now I still prefer sitting, but I use a backless ‘kneeling’ chair with a cushion for your knees and one for your butt (similar to the large yoga balls some use at their desks). It sounds crazy that a chair without a back would cause less back pain rather than more, but it really works! By engaging my core abdominal muscles to stay upright rather than slouching against the chair back, I maintain much better posture while sitting and feel way less achy after a long computer session. I also like to do ‘desk squats’ sometimes when I’m feeling restless. Just some suggestions for those out there in deskland!

  2. It’s almost impossible to have a standing desk or a treadmill desk when you work for a company or in the public. Everything has to be the same and I’m sure they wouldn’t pay to change it up for just one person.

  3. I recently started ‘standing’ at my desk. Except I don’t just stand. I do some lunges, toe taps on a step that is under my desk, march, raise my legs out to the side, rise up and down on the step, and walk in place. I realized that it is about movement. I did not want a big treadmill in my office. I work from home. I pop in an aerobics video and do some of the moves or modifications while I am working. Just started, but so far, so good. Not having a treadmill gives me more flexibility in what moves I can make. I also use light weight ankle weights. Just bending my leg backwards or rising to the side is a good workout with those light weights. I can feel it in my body in a good way! Currently using empty Amazon boxes. One for my laptop/keyboard and another for my larger monitor.

  4. Personally I don’t like a treadmill in front of my desk and doing micro workouts on a regular base every other half hour doesn’t sound tempting. Everything that sounds like a tight regime doesn’t sound tempting, and doing the same stuff over and over certainly doesn’t help to staxy motivated. I like to set myself challenges, like doing a squat-/ kettlebell-/pushup challenge over the course of a couple of days or weeks and/or combining/alternating it. A challenge could also be to skip elevators/escalators and/or doing the stairs twice. Creativity and simplicity is the key to stay motivated.

    • Great job Jasmine!
      Looks like you posted this over a year ago, how’s it working out?
      I love the way your swivel monitor works, and that you have a touch of warmth with all the wood to keep it from being too tech.

  5. I’ve had a desk job of medical transcription for 6 years and thought nothing of sitting for long periods of time until I read that too much sitting is hazardous to your health. I have also been working a custodial job for the past 10-15 years where I’m on the move for 4 hours at a time. I thought this might be enough to counteract all my sitting, but still it’s frightening to think about the risk factors of sitting all day. I put a kitchen timer on my desk that I use occasionally to get me up and moving for a few minutes, but a couple years ago, I decided that I wanted a “stand-up work station” because I do get tired of sitting all the time, even with taking the mini breaks. I have a two-bedroom apartment, and since my kids have grown and moved out, I turned one of the rooms into my office. I now have both stand-up and sit-down stations that are back to back and complete. However, I have only one foot pedal that needs to be moved back and forth, which really isn’t a big deal. Other than that, thanks to my computer guru, he has made it possible for me to go from one station to the other using a simple switch on a data switch box that goes from one monitor to the other. Even after creating my stand-up station though, I was still using my sit-down station more. I have since learned about “hot keys” and can use them now instead of moving my foot pedal whenever I stand. I can’t afford a treadmill, but a good alternative is my lateral thigh master that I’ve had tucked away for so many years. Of course, I had to make some height adjustments, so I simply used books to raise my keyboard and monitor, and it’s perfect. I absolutely enjoy my stand-up station, although, I have to work into it since I’m not used to standing a long time, but that should not be an issue.

  6. Great web site. Plenty of useful info here. I am sending it
    to several pals ans also sharing in delicious. And certainly,
    thanks for your sweat!

  7. What about the dangers of EMF posed by “tech-enabled” pedometers like the FitBit? I have a FitBit, and it uses BlueTooth 4.0 Technology to constantly transmit data. There is no OFF button for the wireless/bluetooth. I have the one that goes around my wrist, so it’s not as close to my body as a waist clip, but still, my common sense tells me that anywhere near my body for most of the day is not a good idea. But then I see that Chris Kresser has one… Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of FitBit and am basically looking for someone to say they are OK and provide some evidence as to why they’re different than other EMF devices…if any exists. So, what is the verdict? Are these “tech-enabled” pedometers safe or not (i.e., the ones where you can NOT turn off the wireless transmissions)? It would be perfect if you could turn off the wireless and then just transmit at the end of the day…just saying…

  8. I wonder if it will boost your creativity. As Nietzsche said in’why I am so clever’
    Remain seated as little as possible; trust no thought that is not born in the open, to the accompaniment of free bodily motion-nor one in which your very muscles do not celebrate a feast. All prejudices may be traced back to the intestines. A sedentary life, as I have already said elsewhere, is the real sin against the Holy Ghost.

  9. Hi chris,

    Great article,i have a couple of questions,since i cant afford a threadmilldesk but have a standing desk.

    1) im somewhat of a procrastinator especially when ill have to do work im not keen on. It take me quite some time to begin,however once i do ill muster through till its done. I love the idea of jumping rope or take walks inbetween but i fear i wont get back to work again bc i like doing the other stuff more. Anyone any advice on this,how to go about it?

    2) would ! Hometrainer instead of threadmill be good as well,or not since youre basically still sitting?

    3) i live in an area with dark&rainy days in Fall and sometimes Winter. Ive noticed that i feel way better/positiver&energetic when its brigth/sunny being outside. Ofcourse i cant c9ntrol the weather so im looking into some cheaper alternative ligthsource,do you have any suggestions what to look for to make The Ultimate Workplace home setup?….bc theres some contradicting advice out there.
    Most common sources recommend dayligth lamps,but for instance RayPeat recommends incandescent lamps bc the blue waveligths in dayligth lamps on top of the ones from devices is stressing?(i supplement with d3 but it doesnt seem to have that same effect like dayligth has)

    4) final question; standing is (yet?) Not socially acceptable behaviour,i dont care what people think of me regarding that but i. find that it leads to various figth&other negative situations where they basically force you to sit. How do you deal with that?

  10. I am curious for doctor’s opinions on a couple of comments here pointing to articles like: http://www.alignedandwell.com/katysays/junk-food-walking/

    I work a lot. At one point I was sitting on a lounge chair with ottoman working 16 hour days (this was just a few months ago). I had developed pain in my legs where standing for more than a few minutes became very painful. When I moved out to the Bay Area in the mid 90s I could run a 40 minute 10k. Now not so much…

    I am currently writing this from my LifeSpan treadmill desk. I have been able to work up to several hours a day from just minutes at a time when I started a few months ago. Now I usually do 5-7 hours a day and currently at a speed of 2.2 mph. I use a 27 inch iMac. I also recently bought Hoka One One Bondi B shoes which seem to help with foot pain (they have a lot of cushion). I do get sore muscles, but the soreness is gone the next day. I started out weighing 225lbs (I am 6’2″). Now I am at 208 lbs, and trying to get to 190. Walking is pretty much the only exercise I get, aside from walking downstairs to smoke a cigarette. I do plan to add weightlifting, some elliptical, and biking (junk exercise?)

  11. I imagine it would be hard to work or concentrate on what you are doing when walking/moving but maybe that’s not the cause. Counter-intuitively, if you could work, I imagine you would be more focused on the work at hand rather than checking facebook or generally wasting time…so maybe it could work as a procrastination buster too.

  12. I was just thinking about this the other day when I was laying down in my bed and working. I get a lot done but the mid section definitely starts expanding if I don’t drive to the gym. I might have to invest into a system like this to stay moving throughout the day.

  13. Chris,
    This information is important, especially for writers. I made my own standing desk and I use Dragon Naturally Speaking; http://australia.nuance.com/dragon/index.htm (Mac users need Dragon Dictate for Mac; http://australia.nuance.com/for-individuals/by-product/dragon-for-mac/dragon-dictate/index.htm) and walk around while I am writing. I have cordless headset which allows me to write from any part of the room.

    This might not work in an office if you have work stations, but you could possibly take your laptop to a private room, or even outdoors to a park.

    It has made a difference to my physical wellbeing and to my work output.

  14. Chris,
    I think this is not a good idea. Junk Walking. 🙂

    Katy Bowman explains (good blog btw):
    http://www.alignedandwell.com/katysays/junk-food-walking/

    I prefer Floor sitting at a “japanese desk” – very low.The cheap self made model. Ans sitting and lying on the floor in all positions. Change position often. Not “Zoo Animal-Exercise” (MovNat)

    This post at Mark’s Daily Apple inspired me to do this.
    Floor Living:
    http://www.marksdailyapple.com/floor-living-do-you-spend-enough-time-on-the-ground/#axzz2Vkml7ydu

  15. I’ve recently started using a treadmill-less treadmill desk . . . I just walk in place on an anti-fatigue mat while I’m working . . . or I do hip circles . . . or isometric abdominal exercises . . . or “good farmer stretches” (gentle back-bend with fists at waist, just to the back).

    There’s nothing that says you have to only stand at a stand-up desk. You can move!

    I’m still fairly new at this, so I have a chair behind me, and the option to sit down. I can easily move my keyboard and mouse from the (ugly) stack of boxes I’m using to raise my work surface, down to the old keyboard pull-out tray that’s attached to my desk. Or I can leave the keyboard on the boxes and sit down to do some reading or write stuff by hand.

    Love it so far! Until I can afford a treadmill. . .

    Stephanie

  16. This is such a great idea! I posted your article, with full credit and links back to your site, on my own site, Bone Density Blog.

    I enjoyed reading the comments posted here, your readers have shared some very creative solutions to make this work.

    As I mentioned in my own introduction to your article, I am not sufficiently coordinated to type and walk at the same time, but I am working on that just by walking. I can use mouse functions if I am walking at the pace you recommended.

    To solve the ‘motion-sickness’ reading issue someone mentioned, I use a larger monitor at some distance from the treadmill. To solve the ‘noisy treadmill’ issue, I use a wireless headset. The keyboard and mouse are also wireless, so I can have an aisle between the treadmill and monitor… no cables to trip over.

    Anyway, I love this idea and love your site. Thanks for being ‘one more voice’ supporting and teaching people about the natural healing powers we all have.
    Martin

  17. I’ve been wanting to get a Treaddesk (not the desk but their TM) for a long time, trying to figure out what would *really* work. Your solution sounds great. I’m really excited about this. Thank you for all the great details. (I’m thinking about the Ergotron Sit-Stand Desk – if the measurements work). If not I’ll try your setup.

  18. I’m intrigued. I sit WAY too much at work. A couple of things come to mind though: I’m not sure I’m coordinated enough to be on a treadmill and type at the same time. It’s ok to laugh, because I’m laughing as I type. I’m thinking I should maybe start by making a standup desk first…BUT isn’t just standing for long periods not do good for you? I broke my foot a year ago and I’m not sure how it would fare…? I also have a laptop and so I’m not sure where to place that since I need to see the screen but all need to be able to type. All words of wisdom are appreciated. Don’t forget, I’m a small biz owner without a money tree so I need to be cost conscious. 🙂
    Thanks everyone!