By ANNE KADET
Last year, Bruce Peterson was in a bind. His mom had died, forcing him to confront his own mortality. His Paterson, N.J., paper-cutting-machine business was still recovering from a printing industry meltdown that forced him to lay off a third of his 76-person workforce and fill in as sales manager, 401(k) administrator and customer-service rep. And then his doctor broke the news: He was prediabetic and needed to make time for exercise.
It sounded impossible, given the responsibilities at work and at home (Peterson, 57, is also president of his co-op board and cares for an elderly father). Then he had a flash of inspiration. He typed treadmill desk into Google and pressed the search button. Does such a product exist? It does!
Now, Peterson works at a $1,300 treadmill desk in his office, sending
e-mails, reviewing proposals and chatting on the phone at two miles an hour. He needs to multitask to get things done, he said recently, while logging the day's 4,536th step on his treadmill: "That's how you stay afloat."
The first treadmill desks hit the market in 2007, but they only recently caught the public's attention. TreadDesk CEO Jerry Carr says sales doubled in 2011, as more folks sought to incorporate exercise into their office day. And new makers are entering the market. Peter Schenk, president of exercise-equipment manufacturer LifeSpan, says his company introduced its $1,300 Treadmill Desk late last year after noticing bloggers posting about their homemade versions.
Suppliers say the typical treadmill desk user is a driven, type A professional who relishes the idea of getting everything done at once. Lawyers and professors are frequent clients, as are, oddly, radiologists, who stroll while reviewing X-rays. Some walk a few hours a day; hard-core adherents ditch their traditional desk entirely in favor of the treadmill desk. It sounds like a horror -- a metaphor for endless drudgery made real -- but adherents say they enjoy more focus, energy and an improved mood. And in a world where we e-mail our coworkers to avoid walking 10 feet across the hall, the treadmill desk makes a daffy kind of sense: One Mayo Clinic study suggests adoptees burn an extra 100 to 150 calories an hour.
It should come as no surprise that employers, including call centers, universities and tech outfits are embracing the desks. Ken Kemker, an IT director for furniture and electronics maker Kimball International, says more than half of his 60-person staff is voluntarily working on the department's "walking offices"; accounting is up next. He likes the idea of healthier employees (Kimball is self-insured), and he's not worried about a dip in productivity. "You can't daydream while you're walking," he says. "It's not like sitting back in a chair."
Peterson let me try his desktop treadmill. I sent an e-mail to my editor. Subject line: "hello ia m eamlijng u frp, a tread,lo;;." It's hard to write when your desk is walking away from you. But Peterson, who has already lost five pounds, says it didn't take long to adapt. Besides, now that he's sampled the intoxicating heights of extreme multitasking, sitting at his desk feels like a letdown. "It's more fulfilling to walk than sit there," he says.