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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 May 2007, 12:30 GMT 13:30 UK
The nine-to-five treadmill
By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine

Denise on an exercise bike
Denise demonstrates the ultimate in career multi-tasking
Walking while you work can help shift those extra pounds, say scientists. But can you really work and exercise at the same time? The Magazine finds out.

As I type this sentence on my laptop I am at the gym, on a cycling machine and pedalling at 95 RPM. Feel the burn - I am.

Shame my hands can't keep up, it took me almost five minutes to key in the above without a single mistake.

In that time I have managed to misspell nearly every other word, mistakenly turn the typeface into italics and come dangerously close to a serious hamstring injury after an incident involving my foot, a pedal and a momentary lapse in concentration.

Scientists from the Mayo Clinic in America are right, you can lose weight if you exercise while you work. But you'll put it all back on when you are at home, eating biscuits while watching daytime television because you've been sacked for poor performance.

I can't afford to let my output slip further or it will be Jeremy Kyle keeping me company every weekday

In controlled scientific conditions it might seem simple to combine the two, but in the local gym, with your laptop, there are a few obstacles to overcome before you can set about toning your muscles in tandem with your brain.

Health and safety is the first. Scientists may be certain about the benefits of walking and working, but my gym manager isn't. I am greeted with a computer-says-no look when I ask to use the treadmill and my laptop at the same time.

"Would be more than my job's worth if you hurt yourself or damaged that computer," the duty manager tells me.

Man at desk
The alternative: You only burn 72 calories per hour at your desk
It's the same response when I ask about the step machine, rowing machine - which would have been tough - and the elliptical trainer. But with the cycling machine, with its useful handlebars on which I can balance my laptop, we reach an accommodation.

Next, what to wear? Am I at work or at the gym? It's all so confusing but I opt for comfort rather than presentation.

Finally, there are the physical limitations to consider. While my mind is agile, my body is not. Co-ordination and balance are not among my strengths.

The average two-year-old child could out-perform me in the old rub-your-tummy-and-pat-your-head-at-the-same-time task. Just mention ice-skating and I slip over. It doesn't bode well.

Once pedalling I find the cycling relatively easy, but not the typing part of the task. In a 45-minute session I manage to write just four paragraphs. That's one paragraph every 11.25 minutes. Were this a time and motion study, I'd be racking up a lot of both... to little effect.

Effort level

So, my very unscientific findings when it comes to the work part of the task are as follows:

Treadmill
Ever feel like your job's a treadmill?
• It's not easy to balance the laptop on the handle bars
• It's not comfortable
• It's near impossible to type
• Concentration levels inevitably dip when you are constantly worrying about dropping and damaging an expensive piece of company property

But surely my body is benefiting? Just about. While I may be cycling at 95 RPM, the machine is telling me my effort level is only at two - it goes all the way up to 12. I feel like I'm working my body hard but apparently not.

When I try to cycle faster I can't concentrate on my work. I can't really afford to let my output slip any further or it will be Jeremy Kyle keeping me company every weekday and not my work colleagues.

Ultimately, the focus of the study is weight and losing it. I manage to burn off a total 176 calories - over the same period at my desk I would have shed a mere 54.

But as I walk back to the office I quickly grab a latte from the coffee bar, which, I find out - having drunk it - has roughly 200 calories, according to the website Calorie-Count.

So it's either off to the gym to cycle for roughly 6.1 minutes to burn off those 24 calories or sit at my desk working for just over 28. No prizes for guessing which one I opt for.


Below is a selection of your comments.

The idea is praise-worthy but it is not very practical at all. I don't think working and exercise can mix. It is just too much to do at the one time and a decrease in concentration level is just an obvious result of the activity. At least the design should be improved. Maybe sitting on a seat with some support and placing the pedals in a more forward position would be better as the user would have to worry less about balancing.
James, Singapore

Obviously the scientists/researchers and not to mention the reporter of this article are getting paid too much and/or have too little to do to have come up with such a hair brained piece of research. It's a pity the rest of us do have real jobs and actual work to do.
Mukesh, Northants

Ah, so much for women being able to multitask.
Ian, UK

Oh Mukesh, envy is such a terrible thing! You go girl on an interesting, if useless, article, where we all know the outcome, but someone has to try it! We continue to research ways to work off the love handles while seemlessly not actually trying! Must get back to my bum-clenches-while-I-type...
Gemma, Bristol

Thank you! I read the first article in the science section of the BBC and wondered, "Can someone ACTUALLY type and workout at the same time?" This article was exactly what I was looking for!
Nima, MD, USA

I have tried similar at home, with the same problem of concentration. I put my stepper under the desk while I work on my laptop, only to find that if I concentrate on what I am doing my legs stop moving, and visa versa.
S. White, Newcastle upon Tyne, England

100% Effectiveness requires 100% involvement,effort and concentration. No one can argue that it is not possible to do both. However, the individual resulting effectiveness for both will most likely be negatively impacted ie. neither will be done to the levels they should/could be if attempted alone.
Ran, Atlanta, USA

You have just given me an excellent idea: I am a translator and am training for the Sao Paulo Marathon for early June. My time is short - so now I can run on the treadmill AND translate. Not because I am steadier controlling my hands and fingers, but because I already have voice recognition software installed in my notebook. I can dictate several pages of translation in the time you took to write only a few paragraphs. And of course, I also get my translation done! Thanks a million - 10% of my earnings will wing their way to you!
dominic minett, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Surely, work could be defined more broadly than just computer work. What about reading articles or having a (bilateral) meeting? In my experience doing exercise during office hours stimulates 'creative thinking' - thinking out of the box is (unsurprisingly) easier on a treadmill or rowing machine than behind a desk. I guess the conclusion whether work and exercise can be done at the same time depends on the profession and whether you lose weight depends on whether you can resist 200 calorie latte's.....
Ivon van Heugten, London, UK

Don't get me wrong, but do scientists conduct research while running at 13Kmph on a treadmill? I think they should go do some real work.
Richard Read, Nether Alderley

Just another stupid idea in the long list of stupid ideas generated by the 'war on obesity' (up there with weighing four year-olds in school, banning pop in packed lunches and health warnings in plus-sized clothing) - which unfortunately means that no doubt it will be gleefully seized upon by the size police as another way to lick those terrible slothful fatties into shape. Expect to see 'right-on' LEAs installing them in classrooms before the year is out.
Rich, Leeds, UK

Restaurants could use these. Then you can have that extra pudding providing you work off the calories as you eat.
Roger, London

I'm regular at the gym but agree that it impossible to work at the same time. The only thing I have ever managed to do at the same time is listen to French radio in preparation for my French A-level. Exercise does help you work, making you generally more alert and happier(yay endorphins!), plus mentally you will work better as more oxygenated blood gets to your brain. Only don't try to read on the treadmill-you will fall off. The best thing to do is go for a run in the morning before work, which will boost your performance for the rest of the day. Don't woory too much about how many calories you eat, just eat a balanced diet and eat food which are as close to thier natural form as possible, i.e. brown bread and pasta(And no these foods aren't as bad as you think!). Also, eat foods that release energy slowly over day, rather than sugary foods like sweets which give you a quick boost of energy, then leave you craving more. Also, if you are going to skimp on meals, have a big breakfast as this starts your daily metabolism and leads to a healthier intake of food over the day. Anyway, have fun at the gym, chat with some friends over the handlebars - don't mix business and pleasure!
Chloe, Winchester




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