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Gear to keep desk jockeys healthier in an 'active workplace'

Since the Mayo Clinic released its research declaring sitting for long periods of time to be detrimental to health, a few fitness products to help stay active at work have popped up in the market.

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Sitting is not one of the seven primal patterns that our ancestors needed to survive, said Louis Stack of Fitter First, but it has become the one pattern that many people engage in most of the day while at work.

“We are not designed to sit for long periods of time,” Stack said, adding that of the seven primal patterns (squat, bend, lunge, push, pull, twist and gait) we generally only do three. “Since the computer age came it really put the nail in the coffin.”

Some fitness manufacturers have attempted to take those nails out during the past few years and get people active at work. From desks that hook up to treadmills to fancy chairs with stability balls built into them, there are a myriad of products for fitness retailers to look into.

Though fitness in the workplace is not a new topic, the concept of trying to stay moderately active while continuing to work seems to have become more popular since James Levine, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic, released results of a study that concluded sitting was bad for people’s health.

Though Stack said he knows humans shouldn’t be sitting for a majority of their day, he admits it’s the nature of the working world today. Stack, who sells the Swopper Chair which “thinks it’s a ball,” said switching up the way you sit and the surface on which you sit could help engage different types of muscles during the day.

Stack explained the chair (photo, right) pivots sideways and has compression springs so when you’re sitting you can bounce up and down.

“Your work place is generally a liability – you don’t leave work feeling refreshed and healthier,” Stack said. “My goal is to make a paradigm shift.” Stack calls it “Reviving the 9-to-5.”

The Swooper, which retails for $750, is one of many stability ball chairs, including the TheraGear Exercise Ball Chair, Gaiam Balance Ball Chair, and DFX Sports and Fitness Ball Chair, among many others.

Other products – like the TrekDesk – seek to make sitting more active and get rid of sitting altogether.

But pricy options like the TrekDesk, which combines a desk and treadmill so people can walk while they work, are not feasible for every customer. So manufacturers and retailers are starting to offer lower-cost options like pedal exercisers and less expensive workstations that attach to an existing treadmill. Though TrekDesk offers a workstation that attaches to an existing treadmills, those models still cost more than $400.

Newton Ashman, owner or TechMotion in Atlanta, Ga., said he’s been selling the company’s treadmill workstation for about six months and it’s been selling well. He chose to sell treadmill workstations because many of his customers already owned treadmills and wanted a cheaper option to a treadmill desk. He sells his workstation for $150.

“A lot of people work from home and they have their treadmill in their office or in their bedroom and they want to be able to work while they walk on the treadmill,” Ashman said.

The British Journal of Sports Medicine recently published a story indicating pedal exercisers might be just the ticket to staying active at work. Stamina Products produces many pedal exercisers and mini elliptical machines that could easily fit under a desk and be used while working at a computer.

“(The Mayo Clinic) stated that you can burn up to 350 calories a day simply by standing in motion or doing something like this during the workday,” said Diane Zipf, the marketing manager for Stamina Products.

“It’s just a real simple, functional piece of equipment,” Zipf said of the InMotion for Health Pedal Exerciser. Zipf said Stamina have been offering the pedal exercisers for about three years and the concept has taken off both in the medical world and less so in the fitness world. “Walmart even has their own version.”

Though many companies that distribute pedal exercisers do so through online retailers, one Brooklyn, N.Y. retailer carries them in his store. The products have yet to pick up steam in sales, however.

He said people who want to make them work can, but oftentimes they’re not comfortable or stable enough for the customer to use.

Baruch said that pedal exercisers are effectively marketed as a physical therapy tool and that fitness manufacturers need to step it up to make them more popular in the industry. “The funny thing is the fitness industry doesn’t actively market items to be used in that way,” he said. “Maybe if they did a better job at fitting these products to work under a desk it might work.”

Fitter’s Stack said that people are getting less and less sedentary as time goes on and any sort of movement during a work day that can last anywhere between eight and 12 hours is beneficial.

 “Your goal should be to move more in the office place,” Stack said. “You don’t need to buy our products but you do need to mix up your environment. … It’s movement that inspires health.”

–Ana Trujillo