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Extreme Office Makeover

Imagine never having to go to the gym again. In fact, imagine going to your job for a workout. Sounds crazy, but Dr. James Levine, an obesity researcher at the Mayo Clinic, has come up with a plan to transform offices into health cubicles.

MSNBC.com reports that Dr. Levine walks on a treadmill while checking e-mail and answering reporters’ questions. Keeping up a 1 mph pace throughout his workday, Dr. Levine burns an extra 100 calories per hour, or 1,000 a day during his 10-hour workday.

“We’re talking more than 50 pounds of weight loss a year, if I were to keep my diet the same,” he says.

Levine is a leading researcher of NEAT — short for “non-exercise activity thermogenesis” — the calories people burn during everyday activities such as standing, walking or even fidgeting.

Dr. Levine’s recent study demonstrated that thin people are on their feet an average of 152 more minutes a day than more sedentary people. Thus the idea for the “ultimate office makeover” was born: a workstation with a computer, desk and treadmill rolled into one, a fine-tuned version of the desk Dr. Levine created for himself.

“The response has to be appropriate for the magnitude of the problem,” he said. “And so we really thought, 'Is there a completely different way of working?”’

He and his team also put a carpeted track around the perimeter of their new 5,000-square-foot space. They made walls out of magnetic marker boards so they can stand up while developing project ideas.

And while they were at it, they used black tape to mark a hockey net on the wall behind Levine’s treadmill so they can fire lightweight plastic pucks at the goal while talking to him.

“It’s great fun and it creates a whole positivity,” he said during an interview while touring the walking track. “Partly because it’s so new, but partly because it’s nice to be moving.”

The makeover was relatively cheap. Levine says the 10 workstations cost about $1,000 each — about half the cost of a cubicle — and remodeling the space cost about $5.50 per square foot.

Those who don’t feel like standing can always pull up a tall stool to work on their computers, he said, but the environment “sends you this message of 'Walking is the norm. Being upright is the norm.”’

Though the treadmill-workstations aren’t commercially available yet, Mayo Clinic’s technology licensing people are working on that.