Computers: ‘When you’re sitting, you’re one step above being dead’

CES 2016 is packed with health companies offering solutions to desk-based laptop slouch. Our reporter stopped slouching for long enough to try some of them

Our digital lifestyles and desk-based workplaces are contributing to serious health problems and could be shortening our lives, technologys wellness firms want us to believe.

Americans will risk their lives for convenience, Philo Northrup told the Consumer Electronics Show on Wednesday. Slouching over his chair and hanging his head down, he said: When you say digital lifestyle, were talking about sitting, and over the day gravity is doing this to you.

Northrup, president and co-founder of the connected exercise device TAO-Wellness, was in Las Vegas to promote TAOs small portable device that encourages focused isometric exercises. He lifts and flexes the gadget, about the size of an apple, around his head, and says workplaces should start encouraging on-site exercise.

Get the marketing department against the accounting department. Our thing is a game as you press youre moving a little avatar down the ski slope. You have a little dopamine and serotonin happening.

Another panellist, Nick Mokey, the managing editor of Digital Trends, concurs. I hate to break it to you, a room full of people sitting down, but sitting is killing you, he says to the audience. They shift in their seats.

A recent Harvard study found that for every dollar spent, a wellness program yields 2.17 cents for the company, Ann Scott-Plante of Weight Watchers explains.

Yesterday I ordered lunch, they came to the curb, I walked five steps. Its amazing and empowering but its making us even more sedentary, Scotte-Plante said. I used to have to get up and walk three blocks.

While engineers have, perhaps characteristically, figured out fantastic products for sitting still Munchery instead of walking to lunch, Uber instead of walking to the bus stop services to make you move have been less compelling for consumers.

Fitbits stock price fell 18% after they announced their latest Apple Watch-like wristband on 5 January. Retention rates for the trackers are reportedly around 50%. And new data this year suggests that, for the first time, death rates for large segments of the American population are rising, with signs pointing to inactivity and weight gain as the culprits.

And so inevitably we come to the treadmill desk, a last-gasp effort to get people to move by promising they wont even need to step away from their laptops.

Ive never been on a treadmill desk, but the talk starts making me anxious, so I moved to one thats set up in the back of the room. I reach for my coffee and almost fall off the machine. Someone asks if he can take video of me as Im walking. What fresh hell is this?

Its not necessarily computers that are doing this to us, though even moving papers was more active, says Pete Schenk, president of the treadmill firm LifeSpan Fitness.

Hes asked about the awkwardness of getting sweaty using a treadmill in the office; Schenk says the treadmill was just on to fast.

In the health section of the Sands Exposition Hall are myriad activity trackers, smart yoga mats and spandex-clad ladies on treadmills atop pedestals. Someone from a gadget company called iHeHa asks if I want to get a two-minute body check. People are selling breathalyzers and body-measuring gadgets, and then I arrive at a workplace fitness company called LifeSpan.

The treadmill desk guys are an earnest, athletic looking group from Salt Lake City. They say theyre the largest seller of treadmill desks in the US and that theyve sold about 50,000 since 2012 to places like Google, Motorola and the White House.

They add theyre unfortunately stationed next to the other Salt Lake City-based treadmill desk company who are all about sex and women in sports bras on treadmills rather than LifeSpan, who aim at customers in the second half of their lives and the odd treadmill desk-embracing millennial.

At the center of their display area is a communal bike station, which looks like three gym bikes attached to a table. Thats for people who just want to sit and enjoy conversation, LifeSpans VP of sales Bobby Krause tells me, missing out the key ingredient of pedaling while doing all that sitting and talking.

Treadmill desk-related shame is their biggest obstacle, they say. When LifeSpan installs two in opposite ends of the same building, neither tends to get used. If the company installs two next to each other, people hop on. You dont like sticking out like a sore thumb, especially at work, company spokesman James Lowe tells me.

He shows me their new 2016 model the Rolls Royce of treadmill desks which sells for about $2,500, pointing out the sleek faux-wood hood and privacy panel. Modesty in movement, he says. People dont like looking silly.

Our gadgets arent killing us, but theyre letting us kill ourselves: Tech enables an unfortunate amount of quiet. Were paralyzed by our convenience, he says.

Lowes looks at me seriously for a moment. Theres no anxiety quite like talking to a treadmill desk salesman. I know he can see the slope of my hunchback from years of computer labor.

When youre sitting, youre one step above being dead.

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