How much is too much walking on a treadmill desk?

Studies are mounting that excessive sitting throughout the day is bad for one’s health.

It seems as though the perfect solution is the treadmill desk, in which you walk in place of many of the hours normally spent sitting.

The standard treadmill desk goes only as fast as 4 mph.

Let’s assume that the user of this equipment feels fine and is not trying to walk through painful heels, for instance.

“It’s difficult to define what ‘too much’ is across the board because each person has a different posture, walking mechanics, response to multi-tasking, etc.,” explains James Buenaventura, physical therapist in Harbor City, CA, who specializes in outpatient orthopedics and sports medicine as well as home health.


Buenaventura points out that a person may not even know they walked too much until after they exit the treadmill desk and are hit with delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

“We would change speeds on the treadmill (interval training) in order to increase cardiovascular endurance because mixing in the speeds changes the stress/strain on the cardiovascular system,” says Buenaventura.

For some people, a walk of 3.5 mph will get them breathing heavily. On the other hand, conducting work on a computer, while walking at this speed for sustained periods, is close to impossible; in my case, if for no other reason, this speed shakes the desk portion of the treadmill.

Many people are motivated to buy this device to avoid the hazards of prolonged sitting, which include an increased risk of blood clots in the lungs, says a report on the British Medical Journal web site.

Buenaventura notes, indeed, that “the primary function of the treadmill desk should be to decrease the incidence of circulatory and cardiovascular issues associated with being sedentary — such as sitting at a desk all day.

There may be some caloric burn and strength gains as secondary benefits, but a person should not use a treadmill desk if their primary goal is to lose weight.”

Is there a limit to how much a person should walk on a treadmill desk, even if their goal is to avoid the hazards of excessive sitting?

“If a person has properly acclimated to the treadmill desk and takes occasional rest/stretching breaks, I could see a person being able to make it through an entire 8-hour work day,” says Buenaventura, “but as I always tell my patients, ‘Let pain be your guide; if it hurts then stop doing it.’”

James Buenaventura, DPT, is a lecturer, consultant, speaker and a legislative advocate for physical therapy. He is a former private practice owner, former PTA program director for Stanbridge University, and former founding director for the physical therapy faculty practice at California State University, Long Beach.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.