Working memory may not be as efficient when using a treadmill workstation as when sitting or standing, according to a recent study.

Other types of thinking, such as switching tasks and checking immediate impulses—also called inhibition—are the same whether sitting or standing, notes the study, from University of Michigan and published in PLOS One.

In the study, researchers at the U-M School of Kinesiology assessed response time and accuracy of three components of executive function during sitting, standing, and walking at two different speeds. The results suggest that only working memory was slightly negatively impacted when walking, but inhibition and task shifting didn’t vary across the workstations.

“We think treadmill work desks are a feasible solution to promote employee health by reducing sedentariness during the work day,” says lead author Zhanjia Zhang, a doctoral student in the lab of Weiyun Chen, associate professor of kinesiology, in a media release from University of Michigan.

“We’re not saying that employees should use a treadmill desk all of the time, but that employees should choose the right type of task so walking won’t impair efficiency.”

During the study, 24 participants completed the different cognitive tests while sitting, standing, and walking at a self-imposed pace of roughly 1.4 mph and a faster pace of 2.1 mph. Working memory was slightly impaired during the test where participants had to recall numbers they’d just been shown in a series.

The biggest difference between the U-M study and other treadmill desk research is that this study compared different measures of executive functions and used two different walking speeds.

Zhang says that if a treadmill desk feels too unstable, a standing desk is also a better option than sitting, and burns more calories because people tend to fidget. Unlike standing desks, treadmill desks haven’t been widely adopted by employers because they’re expensive and often loud, he adds.

[Source(s): University of Michigan, Newswise]