LYNCHBURG, Va. — By late afternoon on a typical work day, Heather Brown usually craves a snack.
Instead of heading to the vending machine, the human resource manager for the City of Lynchburg hops on an “active work station” – a treadmill with an attached desk and computer that allows users to walk and work simultaneously.
“I signed up for the 3 o’clock slot, when I would normally get up and have a snack,” Brown said. “It makes a difference for me.”
This spring, the Central Virginia Health District spent $16,000 – a portion of the funding provided by the Virginia Department of Health Healthy Eating and Active Living Program – to purchase 10 treadmill desks.
The treadmill desks are part of an initiative spearheaded by Work Healthy Lynchburg, a coalition comprised of local business leaders that aims to help companies keep their employees healthy. Studies have shown that a healthy workforce is a productive one. Work Healthy Lynchburg wants to test the theory firsthand, and see if, in the long-run, it also can help decrease employers’ healthcare costs.
Work Healthy Lynchburg is an offshoot of Live Healthy Lynchburg, launched by former mayor Joan Foster in 2012 to address local health concerns.
“I do believe we will see improved health and clarity, concentration and energy levels,” Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Christine Kennedy said. The chamber is one of the driving forces behind the latest effort to develop healthy workplaces.
On June 16, treadmill desks were installed and workplace studies begun at Bank of the James, City Hall and Lynchburg’s Department of Human Services; two were installed at Genworth because of its size. The desks are free to companies.
“This is really just to get people moving,” said Brown, as she led the way recently to a council chamber-turned-treadmill room. “Any type of standing or moving is what we want to encourage.”
Within the past week, Work Healthy Lynchburg announced the acquisition of 10 more treadmill desks to add to the three that have yet to be distributed. In August, four will be given to health departments in Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford and Campbell counties.
“This is also a way for us to incorporate worksite wellness among our employees,” said Leslie Hoglund, senior health educator with the Central Virginia Health District.
The remaining treadmill desks will go to companies whose employees have high stress, but sedentary jobs. Distribution is expected to happen this month. The group has yet to determine which businesses will receive the desks. Work Healthy Lynchburg already has a waiting list.
The response so far has been positive.
“What we are hearing so far is that timeslots are full. People want activity, and what this tells us is that we are on to something,” Kennedy said.
Employees reserve the treadmill desk when it suits them, record their perceived stress and productivity levels on a scale of 1 to 10 before and after walking, stroll at their own pace and, at city hall, can work on everything from email to in-house training while using the desk.
“Anything that we can to do to help facilitate health management and wellness in the workplace is a good thing,” said Bonnie Svrcek, Lynchburg’s deputy city manager. The city is one of the major partners in the Work Healthy Lynchburg initiative.
Ivetta Campbell, Lynchburg City administrative services associate, has used the treadmill desk every day of the week since it was installed in city hall. It’s gone so smoothly, she’s taken to bringing a flash drive down to the first floor with her so she can continue working on what she was doing up on the third floor.
“I think it’s a personal thing,” Campbell said recently, as she walked in her dress and running shoes. “It depends on your priorities. It may not be for everybody. But for me it’s just a good break from the desk and I think it’s worthwhile.”
She’s one of 25 people in city hall – and 70 across the city – who use the work station during work hours. Work Healthy Lynchburg encouraged all companies to design their own treadmill desk schedules and workspace, one that would fit their unique work culture.
The only requirements were the pre- and post-participation surveys, which the health department will to determine the impacts of the active work stations. Prior to using the treadmill desks, employees recorded baseline data such as high blood pressure, body mass index and chronic conditions like diabetes. At the end, the same data will be collected.