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Weighty Matters: Unemployment and Exercise

September 23, 2011

Unemployment is an issue that is all too familiar to myself and our economically depressed society. But, ever heard of a treadmill desk? This had not even appeared in my nightmares (remember my confession about terrible treadmill mishaps? Still haunts my dreams…) until I discovered it while reading an article about Unemployment and Exercise, but now I’m starting to think it’s not such a bad idea at all. Here’s why:

Basically, a study conducted by researchers at the National Institute on Aging found that, contrary to what you would most likely think, unemployed men do not get more daily physical activity than those employed, even in sedentary jobs. While the findings were not the same for women (full-time, part-time, and “healthily” [?] employed all had about the same physical activity levels throughout the day), they did discover that SURPRISE SURPRISE:

…job type predicts daily activity levels. Men with active jobs had 22% more daily weekday activity than men with sedentary jobs; women with more active jobs were 30% more active than their counterparts with desk jobs. Given how many jobs are sedentary, and how much time we spend at work, it points to the importance of increasing activity connected with work.

And here is where the treadmill desk comes into the equation.

The Way of the Future?

Now, as someone who has been unemployed, funemployed, underemployed, employed, overemployed (is there such a thing? One summer in college I did work a day job, a night job, and a weekend job…I was pretty burnt out and developed a giant cyst in my neck about a month in to this routine) and is currently doing everything in her power to avoid a 9-5 desk job that saps out both soul and will to live at the same time, I am fascinated by the mission of one professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic who is called “The Prophet of Walking While You Work.” In the mind of Professor James Levine, the way of the future will be a workplace where treadmill desks will rival cubicles and office workers will be able to shed pounds and gain physical activity (and endorphins! and adrenaline!) while they work.

Q: What’s the problem with desk jobs?

A: Humans evolved over a million years to walk. We are a bipedal, in-motion species. This is how we explore. This is how we learn. This is how we work. This is how we nourish. It’s all on foot–it’s all through movement. People ask if I think it’s amusing that you’ve got these people up on treadmills walking and working. I think it’s strange that people are sitting all day. No wonder you’ve got people depressed; no wonder you’ve got people ill. Their bodies aren’t meant to be doing this. We’ve been walking for a million years and we’re now on our butts.

Amen, James! Amen! The modern 9-5, sedentary desk job lifestyle under fluorescent lights and in windowless rooms is just not how we are meant to live! And, while the treadmill desk is clearly not the solution to all these problems, it certainly is an enlightened take on an issue that is plaguing our nation–lack of physical activity leading to health problems (mental and physical), weight problems, and a health care industry that is spiraling out of control. We’re talking about walking 1 mile an hour while sending out emails…even I, self-proclaimed treadmill hater, could easily do that! Now, Professor Levine is still studying whether this is possible to employ in an office setting (versus a private home office) and calculating the health-care cost benefit, but the research he has done thusfar has proved very promising and is a really unique reaction to an increasingly problematic issue in our society.

I love how the article concerning the unemployment study ends by explaining that while unemployment has risen, average actual time spent at work has gone down, and “America’s greatest pastimes: TV..and sleep” both went up. BUT! “There was pretty much no change in the amount of time spent volunteering, participating in religious activities, exercising or participating in educational activities.” And this is exactly how we’ve gotten to where we are, in every sense (from obesity to Wall Street and beyond!), non?

I still want to begin our weekends with ridiculous work-out videos…this is one tradition I shall not give up on! So, on that note, I would like to explain why I find this video funny. When I lived in the Midwest, I joined a 24 hour gym because it was $20 a month and close to my apartment and I’m an insomniac so I guess I figured that, if worse came to worst with my sleeping problems, I could always work out at 2 am?…BAD IDEA. The mess you see at the gym in a strip mall in Missouri at 2 am (speaking of, did anyone read about the Kindergartener who brought meth and a crack pipe for show-and-tell in Missouri this week? Doesn’t surprise me even remotely) is absurd and frightening and this spastic dancing man featured in the video below would have been the most delicate flower in my Midwest midnight gym hell. Anyways, enjoy! And have a fantabulous weekend, full of ridiculous dancing and all sorts of other physical, non-sedentary activity! (I’m going to go look into setting up a treadmill desk for my blogging time now…)

(Images courtesy of Ivy Leagued and Unemployed [another hilarious blog I could basically be the author of]…and Wall Street Journal Blogs, fascinating)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. John permalink
    September 23, 2011 2:24 pm

    great post! very interesting idea but it requires people to be able to multitask but not the traditional way we are used to. it requires both physical concentration to stay on the treadmill and to do your work at the same time. he says it saves energy but what about all the energy it costs to run the treadmill for all these people all day (and at least in the office that I work at we get up to talk to people every so often which would require starting and stopping the treadmill fairly often). I look forward to seeing what comes of this in the future!

  2. September 23, 2011 3:08 pm

    I hate sitting on my butt at work….. TMI but I periodically develop butt pimples as a result……… it is just all around terrible……… For as gung-ho as I am for moving while working, I’m not sure walking at the same pace would be that great….. well better than butt sitting thats for sure.

  3. September 23, 2011 3:11 pm

    Good point John – he should think of bikes instead that you can then use to power your computer. It’s better on the knees for one but I guess that still requires butt sitting. Maybe a step machine? An exercise machine where you can harness energy instead of using energy is definitely needed.

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