Get Outta That Chair

Employees who used treadmill desks found weight loss, increased energy.

ByABC News
July 31, 2008, 10:57 AM

Aug. 1, 2008 — -- It's easy to pack on the pounds in a 9-to-5 world, but not so simple to take them off.

Obesity expert Dr. Jim Levine said that's not surprising: Many Americans sit almost all day long behind a desk. It's that sedentary environment, he says, that's making us fatter and less healthy than ever before.

When "20/20" first met Levine a few years ago, he had outfitted lean and obese people at his Mayo Clinic lab with data-logging underwear to track their every move. What he discovered astonished him.

"People with obesity have a natural tendency to be seated for two-and-a-half hours per day more [than people who are not considered obese]," he said. "It was staggering."

It was so staggering that Levine hasn't stopped walking since and even does his work while walking at a low speed on a treadmill.

"I spend my entire work day at one mile an hour," he said. "I work at my computer at one mile an hour. I have my meetings at one mile an hour."

It may sound quirky, until you find out that walking a few hours every day can cut up to 350 calories a day or add up to a weight loss of 30 to 50 pounds a year. Levine believes more movement can help combat obesity, and he's on a mission now to get people out of their chairs.

Last September, Levine literally transported his lab to SALO, a financial staffing firm in Minneapolis, Minn.

There he launched a six-month study to determine whether a moving office could actually help workers lose weight.

"The entire company spent its day on its bottom," he said. "Like nearly every company in the modern world."

Given an inside look at this ultimate office makeover with state-of-the-art treadmill desks, "20/20" tracked six of the 18 employees who volunteered to participate.

Co-owners Amy Langer and John Folkestad were the first to offer themselves up as guinea pigs. Since they started the company, Folkestad's weight has fluctuated -- he's now close to 70 pounds overweight.

"You know the thing about having a six-pack? I've got a keg," he said.

And Langer's been battling the bulge around her midsection since giving birth to three kids in four years.

"I'm working on 15 pounds," she said. "The twins gave me a lot extra to work on."