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Treadmills in the office bring workout to work

Mayo Clinic researcher James Levine says his "vertical work station" helps people burn calories and stay healthier than sit-down work environments.

Mayo Clinic researcher James Levine says his "vertical work station" helps people burn calories and stay healthier than sit-down work environments.

No time for a lunchtime lap at the fitness center?

Mayo Clinic researchers say employees can squeeze a workout into the workday if only they’d connect a treadmill to their computers.

It’s not a joke.

A study published last month shows that workers could drop nearly 50 pounds a year by spending a few hours a day on a treadmill while doing office work.

“A lot of assumptions were that people would not be able to type on a treadmill or they were going to fall off or be disoriented – all false,” said Bob Nellis, spokesman for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “You can type, you can answer e-mail. In fact, we have a radiologist at the clinic (working from a treadmill) doing very serious work analyzing X-ray images.”

Some Arizona employers seemed open to the idea.

“The concept of getting people off their duffs to move around is entirely sound,” said Barbara Curry, who manages benefits for 3,000 employees at DriveTime, the Phoenix auto-sales and finance company.

Human resources experts are buzzing about the findings, she said.

“The study demonstrated what sedentary jobs do to a person’s health,” Curry said. “Health helps with absenteeism and the high cost of medical care. If you’re not sick, we don’t have to pay the bills. That may sound a little selfish, but in the long run, who wouldn’t want their employees to live healthy lives?”

If DriveTime were to bring in treadmills, the company would have to determine a fair way to provide its sedentary workers with the fancy workstations so mobile sales employees didn’t get left out, Curry said.

Mayo Clinic researchers James Levine and Jennifer Miller published the calorie-burning data in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, basing the study on a health-conscious office layout that Mayo researchers dreamed up two years ago.

The pair placed 15 obese workers on treadmills in front of computers and found they burned an extra 119 calories an hour walking at their own pace.

During the course of a year, those workers could lose close to 50 pounds if they practiced healthy eating, the researchers said.

Nellis estimates 1,000 U.S. workers have built their own treadmill desks since the “vertical work station” idea appeared on Good Morning America two years ago.

More are contacting Mayo Clinic each week with questions, he said. At least one international furniture maker is working on mass production.

Finding a way to keep employees active is important, considering that one-third of U.S. residents are obese and more than half of the workforce will sit at computers by 2010, the researchers said.

They cited other studies pegging the annual cost of obesity-related absenteeism and expenses at $100 billion or more for U.S. employers.

Qwest employees in Arizona have access to a health club and are encouraged to participate in Mayo Clinic walking contests, spokesman Jeff Mirasola said.

The 1,500 Tempe city employees get free access to community-center gyms and are encouraged to take part in the city’s annual marathon, Mayor Hugh Hallman said.

He, too, was enthusiastic about workplace treadmills, if employees want to install the desks themselves.

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