More Americans exercise while at work

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WASHINGTON — Glued to your desk at work? Cross that off the list of reasons not to exercise.

A growing number of Americans are standing, walking and even cycling their way through the workday at treadmill desks, standup desks or other moving workstations. Others are forgoing chairs in favor of giant exercise balls.

Walking on a treadmill while making phone calls and sorting emails means "being productive on two fronts," said Andrew Lockerbie, senior vice president of benefits at Brown & Brown, a global insurance consulting firm. Lockerbie can burn 350 calories a day walking 3 to 4 miles on one of two treadmill desks that his company's Indianapolis office purchased this year.

"I'm in meetings and at my desk and on the phone all day," he said. "It's great to be able to have an option at my work to get some physical activity while I'm actually doing office stuff. "

Treadmill desks designed are normally set to move at 1 to 2 mph, enough to get the heart rate up but not too fast to distract from reading or talking on the phone comfortably.

It's been a decade since scientific studies began to show that too much sitting can lead to obesity and increase the risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Even going to the gym three times a week doesn't offset the harm of being sedentary for hours, said Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic.

More companies are intrigued by the idea of helping employees stay healthy, lose weight and reduce stress — especially if it means lower insurance costs and higher productivity, said Levine.

"Even walking at 1 mile an hour has very substantial benefits," Levine said, such as doubling metabolic rate and improving blood sugar levels. "Although you don't sweat, your body moving is sort of purring along."

Sales at Indianapolis-based TreadDesk are expected to increase 25 percent this year as large corporations, including Microsoft, Coca Cola, United Healthcare and Procter & Gamble have started buying the workstations in bulk, said Jerry Carr, the company's president.

With bicycle desks or desk cycles, workers pedal their way through the day on a small stationary bike mounted under their desks.

Treadmill desks can range from about $800 to $5,000 or more, depending on the manufacturer and model. Desk cycles start as low as $149.

Some workers have opted for lower-profile — and lower-cost — ways to stay fit at work, such as sitting on giant exercise balls instead of chairs. Using the inflatable balls can help improve posture and strengthen abs, legs and back muscles.

"I've got nurses in my operating room who will use one of those balls instead of a chair," said Michael Maloney, a professor of orthopedics and sports medicine specialist at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Maloney said anyone trying an exercise ball, treadmill desk or other moving workstation should approach it just as they would any new exercise regime. Those who have not been working out regularly should start using the equipment in small time increments to avoid injury, he said.