Skip to main content

UK Staffer Walks While She Works

by Erin Holaday Ziegler

treadmill deskKathryn Cunningham is an active person. She is a lifelong vegetarian who consumes a healthy diet 95 percent of the time. She enjoys food, and fitting into her clothes remains a priority.

Cunningham is a wife, mother, student, teacher and consultant to faculty and staff members at the University of Kentucky. She's very much like you and me. And like all of us, she found devoting hours a day to exercise to be challenging.

However, it was a challenge Cunningham was able to overcome in an innovative way.

Innovation plays a daily role in Cunningham's job designing course material as a faculty/instructional consultant at UK's Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT), so the thought of abandoning her desk chair for a treadmill didn't seem like such an outrageous idea.

"I used to come home after sitting all day and sit some more," she said. "My lifestyle just felt sluggish. And I didn't like the way I felt."

Cunningham did some research. She doesn't quite remember how she came upon the idea for a treadmill desk, but her investigation led to a "Good Morning America" video clip on an office accessory sure to change the lives of sedentary office workers, and after that, it was a done deal. She got permission to bring her own treadmill desk to work.

Even after watching the short video, Cunningham didn't realize the difference her treadmill desk would make, mentally and physically.

Most days at around 2 or 3 p.m., many employees need to run to a local coffee shop or coke machine for a quick pick-me-up, but Cunningham's energy inexplicably soars. "I used to get really tired around that time," she said. "I became drowsy and always had this buzzing in my head. That slump in my day is totally gone now."

Cunningham walks anywhere from three to seven miles daily at 1 mile an hour. She conducts phone calls, reads pertinent news easily on her dual computer screens and types e-mail correspondence.

The only skill Cunningham has yet to master while on the treadmill is reading print. "When I look down at a book, I see my feet moving and get distracted," she said. "But, if needed, I can take time during the day to sit for that."

On days when she walks seven miles, Cunningham admits that she doesn't always look as forward to her end-of-the-day stroll to the bus stop or coming home to walk the dog, but her symptoms of midday malaise have completely disappeared.

"I feel that my time spent walking and running throughout the day has helped me to think more clearly," she said. "I'm actually increasing my productivity."

Having the treadmill in the office and walking while she works also afforded Cunningham the benefit of preparing for Louisville's Derby Festival miniMarathon at the end April. Last winter, the avid jogger trained in her office before work. "I got my conditioning in and was ready for the day," she said. "The treadmill was especially great for snow days."

Cunningham was even able to substitute her daily walks for a regular fitness routine. "Walking all day really took the pressure off for a daily workout," she said. "And I was still prepared for my race. I just ran on the weekends."

Cunningham is an early adopter of the treadmill technology, but researchers have begun to suspect that even if you engage in regular exercise daily, it may not be enough to counteract the effects of too much sitting during the rest of the day.

"Everyone knows getting active is key not only to weight loss, but to better overall health," said UK Wellness Coordinator Carrie Davidson. "Recent research studies have demonstrated how being active throughout the day can reap even bigger health benefits than simply sitting at your desk all day and then hitting the gym for an hour or so. The more often you move during the day, the better your body mass index, waist to hip ratio, blood pressure and cardiovascular risk."

The research in this area is increasing, and so is interest from UK's faculty and staff in Cunningham's treadmill desk. Her office took center stage at CELT's open house in March. But while many UK employees were comfortable taking a gander at Cunningham's foray into office fitness, few dared to get on the treadmill.

"I think that it's intimidating for some, but it's really become like driving while you're listening to the radio," Cunningham explained. "I had a few days of adjustment, but after that, I was fine. I can't imagine working any other way."

Cunningham's treadmill desk is a great example of how to keep up the constant activity, but there are other ways as well, according to Davidson. "Walk to your co-worker's desk instead of calling or e-mailing, take your meetings mobile and walk while you talk or implement an Instant Recess," she said. "March in place while on the phone, just stand up at intervals during the day, take the stairs or park at the top of your structure. The bottom line — get up and get moving!"