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'Bike desks' could make employees healthier, productive

Press Trust of India  |  Washington 

Desks that allow employees to pedal while working can make them healthier and more productive by fighting the ill-effects of a sedentary lifestyle, a new study has claimed.

By providing workers with a portable pedalling device under their desks, Lucas Carr, from the University of Iowa in US, discovered that people who were once sitting all day were now moving at work without getting up.

The study also found that workers who pedalled more were more likely to report weight loss, improved concentration while at work, and fewer sick days than co-workers who pedalled less.

Carr said key to the findings was providing workers with a pedalling device that was not only comfortable and easy to use, but was theirs alone to pedal.

"We wanted to see if workers would use these devices over a long period of time, and we found the design of the device is critically important," Carr said.

Another essential component was privacy. Place a high-end exercise bike or treadmill desk in the hall as a shared device, and very few employees will use them, Carr said.

"It's a great idea in theory, but it doesn't work over the long haul for most people," he said.

Carr's 16-week pilot study was the third and longest in a series of studies he has conducted testing portable pedal machines among workers with sedentary jobs.

His interest stems from growing evidence that people who sit all day - even if they're active outside of work - are at increased risk for serious health conditions such as multiple chronic diseases, poorer cognitive function, and mental distress.

According to recent studies, sedentary jobs have risen 83 per cent since 1950 and currently account for 43 per cent of all jobs in the US, researchers said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates 3.3 million people die annually due to physical inactivity, making it the fourth leading cause of mortality, they said.

Carr's research over the years has found that the best way to get people moving at work is to change the environment in such a way that makes being active easier - a strategy his latest study shows can pay off for both employees and their employers.

"A lot of companies have gone the route of building expensive fitness facilities, that typically get used only by the most healthy employees," Carr said.

"The people who need to improve their health the most are less likely to use work-site fitness facilities," he said.

Carr says providing an employee with an option to be active right at their desk might be an effective way to improve the health of employees who are reluctant to exercise and could possibly reduce health care costs for employers.

The study appeared in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

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First Published: Tue, August 11 2015. 14:02 IST