Taking Standing Desks To The Next Level: Bike Desks

August 24th 2015

Laura Donovan

Earlier this year, ATTN: covered the potential health benefits of standing desks, which many workers use to combat the negative effects of too much sitting at work. Some people take it a step further with bicycle desks, and a new study from the University of Iowa found that this can have a positive impact on a worker's health and professional performance.

Assistant professor of health and human physiology Lucas Carr helped conduct the 16-week pilot study, which entailed providing nearly 30 workers with a portable pedaling device under their desks. The workers pedaled for an average of 50 minutes a day, but some people pedaled for up to three hours per day, at their desks. When the study ended, 70 percent of participants asked to keep the pedaling devices. From his research, Carr found that those who pedaled more were more likely to report weight loss, had an easier time concentrating at the office, and called in fewer sick days than the folks who pedaled less. In other words, not only could this be better for a person's health, but it could also be better for work output, since they're taking less time off and able to focus more.

“Sitting all day at work is really bad for us,” Carr told the Atlantic. “Research has found excessive sedentary time to be a risk factor for many physical and psychosocial health outcomes including mortality, obesity, cardiometabolic-disease risk, cancer, stress, depressive symptoms, and poorer cognitive function.”

He added that this could even enable workers to have better work-life balance and spend more time with the people they love after the workday has ended.

“Rather than rushing to the gym right after work, they were able to get their activity in while at work and take care of their errands after work," he said. "This allowed them more time with their families which is a huge piece of work-life balance.”

How to make bike desks most effective

While bike desks could save you trips to the gym and make you work a little harder, the devices must meet certain standards to be effective. Carr found that they need to be comfortable, easy to use, and in private areas for people to get the most out of them. In a shared or open space, workers are less likely to use the pedaling devices.

"We wanted to see if workers would use these devices over a long period of time, and we found the design of the device is critically important," Carr said in a release. "It's a great idea in theory, but it doesn't work over the long haul for most people."

That's why he thinks the pedaling desks would be optimal for people in private areas.

"This is something that could be provided to just about any employee, regardless of the size of their company or office," he said. "It's right at their feet, and they can use it whenever they want without feeling self-conscious in front of their co-workers."

Atlantic senior editor James Hamblin sometimes uses a bike desk but finds it can create awkward social situations.

“People who use bicycle desks in the office can encounter some difficulty with social ostracization," he said. "I know I did. At least, I think that’s when it started. Maybe it was before that. I don't know. It’s hard to know."

Other options to improve your help

If you don't care about what your co-workers might think of a bike desk, consider getting one. Or look into treadmill desks if that suits you more. Bestselling author John Green uses one in the video below:


According to the Mayo Clinic, regular brisk walking can help you maintain a healthy weight, improve your mood, give you better coordination and balance, and strengthen your bones, among other benefits.

The health community typically encourages people to walk 10,000 steps per day, which comes out to around five miles. The average American only walks about half the recommended amount of 10,000 steps, according to Catrine Tudor-Locke, director of the Walking Behavior Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center. In 2014, she told Live Science that the average American takes about 5,900 steps a day.

The U.S. is also far behind other counties in number of steps taken per day. A 2010 Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise study that observed the two-day pedometer results of different adults found Americans only took took 5,117 steps a day while the average person in Western Australia was nearly 9,700, the average in Switzerland was 9,650, and the average in Japan was 7,168. At time time, study lead Dr. David R. Bassett Jr. told the New York Times that he was surprised by Americans' high level of sedentary behavior.