This man walked from Boston to San Francisco without leaving the office

(From his treadmill desk.)

Adam Ritchie has covered over 3,000 miles on his treadmill desk.
Adam Ritchie has covered over 3,000 miles on his treadmill desk. –Courtesy of Adam Ritchie

After three years of steady dedication, Adam Ritchie successfully walked across the country. Sort of. He actually made the whole trip from his office, five minutes from South Station. But the miles were real enough.

“It took two pairs of sneakers,’’ said Ritchie, the founder of Boston-based PR agency Adam Ritchie Brand Direction, who has logged 3,000 miles on his treadmill desk – enough to make it to San Francisco.

Ritchie may be an extreme adherent of the cult of office mobility, but he’s not alone.

Sedentary work environments have come under fire as a growing base of research shows it’s important for employees’ health to break up the workday by standing or walking. Standing and treadmill desks like the LifeSpan model Ritchie uses are a common solution for workers hoping to avoid the health risks associated with sitting, like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

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LifeSpan is one of Ritchie’s clients, so he got the treadmill desk for free, but LifeSpan’s models typically cost between $1,000 and $3,000. Though Ritchie is accustomed to using client’s products, he said he didn’t anticipate becoming quite so attached to this one.

Carrie Blout, genetic counselor and MedSeq project manager, uses a treadmill desk at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. It belongs to her co-worker, Dr. Robert Green, associate director for research at Partners Center for Personalized Genetic Medicine, but she uses it when he’s out of town. —Courtesy of Dr. Robert Green

“It’s so bad to sit all day,’’ Ritchie said. “This past winter, when we were buried under snow, I walked to the office through the snow because that’s where my treadmill desk was. It felt really good to look outside and see a blanket of snow and still get a full day of movement in.’’

Ritchie isn’t militant about his treadmill desk regimen, but he does use it for the majority of the day, unless he’s writing something by hand or eating lunch. His treadmill measures steps, calories burned, and distance covered, so shortly after acquiring it he began logging miles. He covers between six and 10 miles per day, but supplements his walking routine with other exercise.

“They’re motion machines,’’ Ritchie explained, it’s a common misconceptions to think treadmill desks will give you a serious workout. He never walks faster than 1.5 to 2 miles per hour. “They’re not workout machines, they’re office equipment. They’re not a replacement for exercise; they’re a replacement for sitting all day. You never get sweaty, out of breath, or have difficulty typing.’’

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Ritchie doesn’t pay attention to the calories he burns, but said he has noticed slight physical and major psychological changes over the past three years. He no longer has reoccurring lower back pain, and doesn’t feel tired after standing in long lines or visiting a museum. Big lunches no longer make him feel sluggish and sleepy. And psychologically, Ritchie now looks forward to going to work, and said he feels far more productive.

As more companies become aware of the dangers of sedentary work, he expects more will provide standing or treadmill desks for employees, possibly causing the cost of treadmill desks to fall and become more affordable. Ritchie said many of LifeSpan’s early clients were CEOs, but over the past two years, its treadmill desk sales have grown by 300 percent.

Acclaimed New Yorker writer Susan Orlean uses a treadmill desk, as does Cosmopolitan’s editor-in-chief Joanna Coles. About half the 40-person staff of digital marketing agency SilverTech uses treadmill desks, as well as some Harvard Medical School professors and researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Dr. Edward Phillips, an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School, is so passionate about reducing sedentary behavior that he rents one LifeSpan treadmill desk and one stationary bicycle desk for communal use in his classroom.

“We invite students or speakers to use them if they get tired of sitting,’’ Phillips said. “There are usually people waiting in line to use the treadmill desk or the bike desk,’’ he added. Like Ritchie, Phillips said his back hurts less and he feels more energized throughout the day.

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Besides being good for them, both Ritchie and Phillips find treadmill desks fun.

“The circumference of the earth is 24,901 miles,’’ Ritchie said with enthusiasm. “And I’m already a good chunk of the way there. At 1,000 miles per year, I might finish around 2035!’’

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