Desk Jockey

Medford man uses a treadmill desk to battle the insidious effects of sitting
Keith Casebolt uses a treadmill desk while working at the Medical Eye Center in Medford Thursday. Mail Tribune / Jamie LuschJamie Lusch

Keith Casebolt learned that good intentions will carry a body only so far.

Casebolt manages Medford's Medical Eye Center, where a staff of 85 provide everything from cataract surgery and laser vision correction to optical exams, lenses and frames.

Understanding the science, risks of constant sitting

Too much sitting isn't healthy, whether you're perched atop a chair at the office, driving your car, riveted to your favorite video game, or collapsed in an overstuffed chair in front of the TV.

"We definitely are enticed to be sedentary," says Brad Cardinal, an Oregon State University professor of social psychology of physical activity. "Every day there's some new inducement to be sedentary."

A Canadian study commissioned to study the effects of prolonged sitting tracked 17,000 men and women between the ages of 18 and 90 for 12 years. Participants were asked to indicate the amount of time they spent sitting during the course of most days of the week: almost none of the time; about one-fourth of the time; about half of the time; about three fourths of the time; and almost all of the time.

The more time people spent sitting, the more likely they were to die of cardiovascular disease, even when the researchers made adjustments for participants' age, gender, smoking status, alcohol consumption, and physical activity level. Those who were overweight and sat almost all of the time had the highest rates of mortality from cardiovascular disease.

The only bright spot in the research? People who sit a lot were no more likely to die of cancer than those who sit very little.

The research was published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.

— Bill Kettler

"If you've got eyes, we can pretty much take care of you," he says. "There's a lot going on and it's challenging."

He spends much of his day sitting — in meetings, writing and talking to people on the phone. He'd read that the simple act of prolonged, uninterrupted sitting can have adverse health effects no matter how long or how hard you beat yourself up at the gym.

"Even if you exercise, you can't make up for being sedentary all those hours," he says.

His plans to work out just seemed to flame out.

"I put exercise on my calendar three days a week," he says, "but I never do it. Something always comes up."

He decided to try something that would allow him to exercise at work. He bought a treadmill desk, a contraption that's exactly what it sounds like — a walking treadmill with a desk where Casebolt mounted a computer screen and keyboard. He can walk on the treadmill while he writes, looks at email or talks on the phone.

"It's the coolest thing ever," he says.

"There's not a single thing about this that I don't like," he says. "It's increased my job satisfaction just because I feel better at work."

Casebolt's $1,300 LifeSpan TR 1200 tells him how many steps he takes, how long he's been walking, and how many calories he's burned. A sensor automatically stops the ultra-quiet treadmill if he steps off. It can spin as fast as 4 mph, but Casebolt never cranks it up that high.

"If you did, you couldn't work," he explains. At that speed, the upper body moves too much to use a keyboard. Through trial and error he's found a pace of about 1.2 mph — a leisurely stroll by walking standards — allows him to type. He walks almost every day, from 20 to 90 minutes, depending on his schedule and his commitments.

He says he is "mentally sharper" when he's walking and "more focused on what's the next thing to do to move off my list."

Treadmill desks are some of the most conspicuous tools in the growing array of products designed to get people moving on the job. There are pedal exercise machines that fit under conventional desks, along with tiny elliptical machines and step exercisers. Desks have also been grafted onto traditional full-size exercise bikes.

Researchers have long known that lack of physical activity increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, but over the past few years they've begun to realize that prolonged sitting can be a health hazard all by itself. A number of studies have shown higher mortality rates for people who spend the most time sitting, with profound implications for a society that spends more and more hours on its behind.

Scientists have learned that an enzyme in the leg muscles that helps utilize fat in the blood for fuel stops functioning when we fail to stand up for long periods. Too much sitting allows triglyceride (fat) levels in the blood to rise, increasing the risk for cardiovascular disease over time.

It's apparently a vestige of our early days as mega walkers.

"Your body truly craves physical activity," says Brad Cardinal, an Oregon State University professor of social psychology of physical activity. "Anthropological records suggest the average human walked 12 miles a day" when we were hunting and gathering.

Cardinal says almost any kind of activity that interrupts prolonged sitting is helpful. Some people take a five-minute break every hour and walk around the office. Others get up and walk over to talk to a colleague instead of sending an email, or walk to the most-distant restroom in the building when nature calls.

"It doesn't take a tremendous amount of activity to start reaping some benefits," he says.

Casebolt started using his treadmill back in July. Even though he was walking at a very slow pace, his body took some time to adjust to the increased physical activity.

"My feet were sore," he recalls. "My ankles were sore."

The extra walking prompted him to change his workday footwear. He discovered dress loafers didn't provide adequate support, and he took to wearing shoes with heavier soles. Walking while working took some getting used to. He had to learn to hold his upper body still so that he could type while he walked.

Some four months into the experiment, Casebolt is sold on his treadmill.

"I feel different," he says. "It's not a dramatic change, but I feel like I have more energy, and I feel stronger when I have to walk (on business or errands). I think I just overall feel better, and I think I sleep a little better."

Bill Kettler is a freelance writer living in Rogue River. Reach him at

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