Steve Bordley is the CEO of TrekDesk treadmill desk, where he oversees the company’s international infrastructure, and takes an active role in promoting the health benefits of active workspaces.
We recently checked in with him to learn more about how the average office worker can improve both their short-term and long-term health. Here’s what he had to say:
Can you tell us the story behind your inspiration to create the TrekDesk treadmill desk?
TrekDesk’s creation was inspired by a physical challenge I faced after a serious accident, which left me unable to walk for a period of two years. My health and fitness levels deteriorated as a result of my limitations, and working in a sedentary office environment was only exacerbating the problem.
I started experimenting with different options to increase my activity level. First, I fashioned a recumbent bike underneath my desk, but that did nothing for the neuropathic pain and back issues that eventually led to shoulder pains. I programmed software activity alerts to remind me to get up and move around, but this ended up being ineffective and distracting to my work process.
My neuropathy and back pain were only alleviated during long walks with my children, so it dawned on me that I should simply extend this cure-all to the office by utilizing a treadmill. I fashioned a desk from a Rubbermaid top and placed it across my treadmill’s arms. This contraption wasn’t perfect, but within 6 weeks I lost 25 pounds, my back problems disappeared, I slept better at night, and my neuropathy was non-existent while I walked. Very quickly, I adapted to walking or standing the entire day.
I suspected that if someone with my physical challenges could achieve such great results, then this was a mechanism that could improve the health of millions. Wanting to learn more about the benefits of walking, I began researching and learned as much as I could about the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle and the health benefits of walking.
What I learned simply overwhelmed me and convinced me to expand my rudimentary treadmill desk and launch a movement revolution that would educate Americans about the health benefits of walking while working.
What are the biggest changes you’ve observed in becoming more physically active while working?
First and foremost, I feel more energized and alive during the day. I’m also more creative and happier while moving. Most surprising, when I am done walking all day at work, I actually have more energy to do things with my kids. That to me, is priceless.
I have noticed that most people are initially interested in the weight-loss aspect of the TrekDesk and, while we have users that have lost in excess of 70 pounds using it, I truly believe that the mental benefits are just as important.
Why are you so passionate about encouraging healthy activity in workplaces?
America’s health is deteriorating rapidly. While our obesity levels are spiraling out of control, most Americans are unaware that their two-hour commute and eight-to-10-hour cubicle sentence is the main reason they feel so tired and defeated. Unfortunately, the message about the importance of movement, which we’ve been promoting since 2009, has a long way to go before it is understood and accepted by employers and the medical community.
There are literally hundreds of studies that show its miraculously curative powers, but few connect these dots to the devastating effects of inactivity and sedentary lifestyles. I have been passionate in sounding the alarm but this is a fight that will go on for years to come.
What have you found are the benefits of staying active during the workday?
If I told you I had a magic pill that greatly reduces your risk of all diseases, boosts your energy levels, improves your mood, and even makes you smarter, would you be interested? I know the pharmaceutical industry would be pushing the best-selling drug of all time!
Well, it exists already, and it is free! Walking is that powerful. Ten thousand steps per day (the average American walks less than half of this) reduces the risk of initial heart attacks by 90%, stroke by 70%, Type II diabetes by 50%, and a variety of cancers by 50%. Walking has also been shown to be more effective in defeating depression that any medication, and in a much shorter time frame. Interestingly, walking even boosts the levels of BDNF in the brain, increasing creativity and the size of your brain.
We have categorized the hundreds of studies on the amazing health benefits of keeping your body in motion in the research section of the TrekDesk website.
What are the risks of sitting all day at a desk? How does it affect office workers long term?
Sitting is literally killing us. It simply shuts down a majority of the bodily processes necessary for health. Think of it from a common sense standpoint. Did we evolve over millions of years as an active species or one confined to a cubicle? Our health mechanisms are dependent upon movement. The damage that sitting in an office all day does to the body is enormous, even among employees who run or visit the gym before the office. This fact surprises most people but alarms too few.
Short-term effects include greater vulnerability to disease, depression, obesity and decreased productivity. Long-term effects are much worse and include decreased lifespan, increased risks of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and mental decline (e.g. dementia, Alzheimer’s).
So why don’t employers adopt more active office environments? Cost. A treadmill desk costs more than a standard desk. If an employee develops Type II diabetes, their cost of care is more than $300,000 over the course of a lifetime. However, most of that cost is in the latter stages of one’s career so it becomes a “kick-the-can” mentality. An average worker stays with a company only five years, and companies simply hire younger workers and avoid candidates in the higher risk categories.
Treadmill desk in the office have been a bottom-up, grass roots movement. Corporate America has not taken a leadership position in this health issue, and after seven years with TrekDesk, I see that they will not unless employees start to demand the change.
Aside from products like the TrekDesk, what are some other ways that more sedentary office workers can stay active and healthy throughout the day?
The negative effects of sitting begin in as little as 15 minutes, so one strategy it to stand and move around every 15 minutes to allow the body to reset. That is challenging for many of us, myself included. We get involved in a project and hours go by before we even notice.
Anything an employee can do to increase their daily step count is recommended. Park the car farther from your workspace. Take stairs rather than elevators. Engage in walking meetings or standing meetings at the very least. Have a walking lunch. Take mass transit, which typically involves more activity to navigate.
Standing desks are a better option than chairs but have been shown to have detrimental effects unless the employee remains vigilant about moving around rather than standing in one spot for prolonged periods.
The simplest message is to stay upright and move as much as possible during the day.
What are the benefits to employers for encouraging healthy habits among their employees?
Bottom line — profits. Fewer sick days. Less absenteeism. Less presenteeism – yes, this actually exists. Keeping employees active also increases productivity and creativity. Walking while working keeps employees more engaged and happier.
Any company performing a cost-benefit analysis of implementing treadmill desks in the office will soon realize that there was a reason mother nature designed us to stay upright and moving and not confined to a $1,000 ergonomic chair.
From an insurance perspective, why should companies seek out ways to make their workplace healthier?
I touched earlier on the $300,000 average lifetime cost of care for a Type II diabetic employee. Unfortunately, the insurance industry will end up with these bills one way or another.
Our medical spending costs in this country are 17% of GDP, with totals in excess of $1.2 trillion per year. These costs have been escalating at ever-increasing rates as well, placing a tremendous burden on the economy and the health insurance industry in particular. A majority of this money is spent on caring for health conditions after it is too late to reverse their course. Very little is spent on preventative measures.
America needs to change its thinking about workplace health and proactively redesign the office in a way that eradicates sedentary environments. I sincerely believe that the insurance industry should reward companies that engage in “active workplace initiatives” with lower premiums.
Some day in the near future insurance innovators will begin actively offering reduced price TrekDesks to their policy holders in order to improve health and reduce long-term costs. Top down leadership in the Movement Revolution is essential if this message is to ever take effect. The insurance industry is well positioned to take that lead.
The information in this article was obtained from various sources. This content is offered for educational purposes only and does not represent contractual agreements, nor is it intended to replace manuals or instructions provided by the manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional. The definitions, terms and coverage in a given policy may be different than those suggested here and such policy will be governed by the language contained therein. No warranty or appropriateness for a specific purpose is expressed or implied.