The next step in office fitness: pedal desks

Researchers find that a pedalling device under the desk helped employees concentrate and reduced the number of sick days

Office worker using a pedal desk

(Illustration by Kagan McLeod)

There’s a growing body of evidence that says people who sit all day are at increased risk for mental distress, poor cognitive function and chronic disease. The number of sedentary jobs have risen 83% since 1950, and in developed economies now account for nearly half of all jobs. The good news is that now getting some exercise at work may be as easy as installing a portable pedalling device under your desk.

A University of Iowa study found that workers who were provided with a portable pedalling device under their desk were able to concentrate better at work, more likely to report weight loss and take fewer sick days than co-workers who pedalled less. There’s a catch, however. Employees preferred to use a pedalling device that was theirs alone (as opposed to a shared cycle desk).

“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,” says Lucas Carr, assistant professor of health and human physiology at the University of Iowa. Placing a high-end exercise bike in the office as a shared device for employees to use just doesn’t work over the long haul, as only the most active employees hop on it.

To get the people who actually need to improve their health pedalling, it’s more effective to provide them with their own pedal device. “It’s right at their feet, and they can use it whenever they want without feeling self-conscious in front of their co-workers,” says Carr. His most recent study discovered that 70% of the 27 employees from a company who volunteered to have a pedal device placed under their desk decided to keep theirs at the end of the study.