HPU instructor's 'treadmill-desk' lets him walk as he works

Jan. 07, 2013 @ 01:00 AM

Step into Dan Tarara’s office, and the first thing you notice is the treadmill. Because, you know, most people don’t have a treadmill in their office.
The second thing you notice is the desk. Because, unlike any traditional office desk you’ve ever seen, this one actually straddles the treadmill.
Finally, once you’ve pried your eyes away from the treadmill and the desk, you notice Tarara — an instructor at High Point University — who is not only walking on the treadmill, but also typing on his computer at the same time. He’s the ultimate multitasker, allowing his workstation to double as, well, a walkstation.
“I get all kinds of reactions,” Tarara says with a chuckle. “When people pop into my office for the first time, they’re like, ‘Wow, you have a treadmill in your office! And you don’t have a desk!’ Other people just look at me like I’m crazy.”
Tarara is not crazy, though. He’s an assistant professor of exercise science at High Point University — where his classroom lectures frequently focus on the fitness benefits of physical activity — so his makeshift “treadmill-desk” allows him to not only talk the talk, but literally walk the walk, as well.
“You’re not setting the world on fire, but you’re taking yourself out of a sedentary position and slightly elevating your metabolism,” Tarara explains. “You don’t sweat, you don’t breathe heavy, and your heart rate doesn’t really get going very fast. It’s just a small bump in your metabolism.”
In fact, Tarara doesn’t walk much faster than a snail’s pace.
“A blazing 1 mile an hour,” he says. “If I’m feeling frisky, I’ll crank it up to 1.2 miles an hour.”
The benefits, though, bear mentioning.
“The whole concept is to get out of a chair, to get away from being sedentary,” Tarara says. “If you just go from sitting to standing, you can burn an extra 20 calories an hour. If you go from sitting to walking, you can potentially burn an extra 100 calories an hour.”
That may not sound like much, but Dr. James Levine — a Mayo Clinic physician who actually pioneered the concept several years ago — says if you were to replace eight hours a day of sitting at a desk with eight hours of walking on a treadmill, even walking at such a slow pace, you could lose as much as 50 pounds in a year.
The other part of the equation, of course, is how difficult it is to work while maintaining a slow walking pace.
“You get used to the rhythm of walking pretty quickly,” Tarara says. “It took me maybe a day to get used to it, and after that it’s just invisible — it’s just a natural extension of what I’m doing. If I’m doing routine things — answering emails, talking on the phone — there’s no drop-off in productivity. If I’m doing a high-focused, high-concentration type of reading, sometimes there might be a little drop-off on that end.”
Conversely, though, Tarara says he never struggles with the afternoon sleepiness that often attacks desk workers after lunch.
“I don’t get that at all — it’s impossible to get that feeling while you’re walking,” he says. “So I feel like what little I might lose in productivity, I gain in terms of not losing focus.”
Commercial treadmill-desks can be purchased, some of them for as much as $5,000, but Tarara chose to save some money by constructing his own.
Most of Tarara’s students think his treadmill-desk is cool, he says, but it also helps them better understand some of the concepts he’s teaching in exercise science.
“One of the things I’m trying to instill is a broader understanding of what it means to be physically active,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be playing a sport or going to the gym. It’s finding ways in the confines of your day to be active, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator. I have a stationary bike in my living room that I might use when I watch TV. Likewise, having a treadmill-desk is part of the fabric of what I normally would do.”
Meanwhile, it’s helping him stay physically fit and having a dramatic impact in such areas as blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes risk, he says.
“It may not be the next ThighMaster,” he says, “but it’s a pretty cool thing to have.”

jtomlin@hpe.com | 888-3579