Are the number of steps on the treadmill desk more important than the amount of time spent on it to offset the “sitting disease”?

Does it matter is the time you spend on your treadmill desk is a crawl at 0.5 mph, totaling perhaps 15,600 steps by nightfall…vs a few hours LESS time spent on the treadmill desk—but due to a much faster speed, your total steps walked by day’s end are 16,770?

What’s more important in undoing the sitting disease: more time on the treadmill desk or more steps?

I’ve been using a treadmill desk since 2011. Here is some data:

  • 0.5 mph = 3,120 steps per hour
  • 1.7 mph = 5,520 steps per hour
  • 2 mph = 5,940 steps per hour

This data is easy to calculate: Count your steps (each foot counts as a step) for 60 seconds, then multiply that total by 60 to get the per-hour total.

Steps will vary depending on your stride, but your calculation should be fairly close to mine unless you’re super tall or super short.

10,000 Steps a Day

Some years ago the big buzz in the health and fitness world was that of getting in 10,000 steps a day—around the house, at the office, wherever.

Pedometers were all the rage.

Nowadays the focus is on staying off your can as much as possible, with little attention paid to total number of steps by bedtime.

Based on the above data, five hours of walking on a treadmill desk at 0.5 mph = 15,600 steps.

But only three hours (2.5 at 1.7 mph and 30 minutes at 2 mph) = more steps: 16,770.

So according to the steps-per-day approach, the three hours on the treadmill desk wins.

But according to the sitting disease approach, the five hours is better, even though it involves fewer steps.

As a former personal trainer and avid user of a treadmill desk, and one who has researched the sitting disease very aggressively for my articles, I have not located any research that pits time on the treadmill to total number of steps on the machine.

So what it comes down to, until research tells us otherwise, is what works best for each individual.

In my case, there’s only so much I can do on a computer while walking. For example, I never work on my website while on the treadmill desk due to the highly focused nature of the work.

I have one computer at my traditional desk and a second one on the treadmill.

Furthermore, due to the height of the machine’s desk, writing is uncomfortable on my wrists.

The height is perfect for proofreading but I do not compose articles on it (though I’ll write e-mails).

Thus, my time on the machine is sometimes limited. This means I must make the most out of the time I’m on my treadmill desk.

The speed is often at 2 mph, sometimes 2.3, and after a total of two hours, this really starts racking up in steps.

My goal is always to hit 10,000 steps by the time I retire for the night. I’ve gotten up to 17,000. I think once I hit just over 20,000.

Some days it’s 5-7,000. Other days it’s 11-15,000. It just depends on the kind of computer activity I’m doing for that day.

If I know I won’t be on the treadmill desk that much for a particular day, I’ll go at 2 mph for as many minutes as possible, and of course, it’s always in chunks throughout the day.

So maybe I spent more time than I should have on a given day in my traditional desk chair, but it’s good to know that come bedtime, at least I got in at least 10,000 steps on the treadmill.

And of course, none of this includes any of the steps I did outside of my computer work, such as around the house, in the community, at the gym, etc.

Let’s face it: There’s only so much opportunity sometimes to use a treadmill desk. Reading online celebrity gossip—that you normally would not read—just to avoid sitting, isn’t a viable solution for everyone.

Another facet of the sitting disease that apparently has not been researched is the effect of incline walking on the treadmill desk.

For instance, does 1 mph at eight percent incline offset the sitting disease as much as much MORE time spent at the same speed but at zero incline? Good question! No answer!

Number of steps a day vs. time spent on a treadmill desk? Hopefully some hardcore research will soon produce an answer.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 



Top image: ©Lorra Garrick