Exercise science professor tests walk-study hypotheses with Rutgers students
By Fredda Sacharow
Brandon Alderman is researching whether low-intensity exercise favorably influences job productivity.
Studies increasingly indicate that exercise is good for your heart, your cholesterol, and your waistline. Now one Rutgers researcher is out to prove it’s also good for your employer’s bottom line.
Brandon Alderman, an assistant professor in the Department of Exercise Science and Sports Studies in the School of Arts and Sciences, is putting test subjects to work – literally – on a retrofitted treadmill in the basement of the Loree gym on the Douglass Campus, having them walk at comfortable speeds while performing basic cognitive tasks.
His goal: to determine whether low-intensity exercise favorably influences job productivity.
“We’re learning that people perform better when given the opportunity to stand and move around while they’re at work,” Alderman said. “So from a productivity standpoint, it might be best if they’re also moving while they’re working.”
To test his hypothesis, he has enlisted 150 Rutgers undergraduates – all veteran treadmill users – to walk at speeds between half a mile per hour and two miles per hour while reading a magazine or working at a computer. As part of their 20- to 30-minute sessions, Alderman administers a battery of reading tests and other tests he described as “tapping into executive functions” such as planning and decision-making.
Scientists have recently been examining the metabolic effects of low-intensity walking, but he believes he is among the first to focus particularly on the performance aspect of exercise.
“All the studies so far look at acute bouts of vigorous or moderate intensity, and the evidence is conclusive that this kind of activity does improve cognitive function,” said Alderman, who joined the Rutgers faculty in 2009 after serving as an assistant professor in the Division of Kinesiology and Health and director of the Exercise and Sport Psychology Laboratory at the University of Wyoming.
He credits Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic with popularizing the idea of a treadmill desk. Levine’s test subjects burned 100 extra calories more every hour by walking at a rate of one mile per hour – which Levine calls “normal walking speed” -- than they did by sitting in a chair. (The experiment uses TrekDesk Treadmill Desks)
Long intrigued by the relationship between physical activity/aerobic fitness and stress, Alderman said an offhand observation by his wife Dominy, a former fourth-grade teacher, led him to his current research project.
“She noticed that some of the boys in her class just couldn’t sit all day; they wanted to stand up at their desks and do their work. That led me to wonder how kids learn best – maybe it’s when they’re up and moving at low intensity speeds,” Alderman said.
He believes the notion has implications not just for younger populations, but also for more mature Americans living and working in a society where 14-hour days in front of a computer and a television set are becoming more and more common.
“I can’t tell you how often I wish I could get up from my desk and move around a little,” said Alderman, who teaches courses in exercise psychology, sport psychology, and research methods and also serves as director of the Exercise Psychophysiology Laboratory at Rutgers. “For older adults especially this is very important, since research is now looking at a predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease and what role exercise might play in preventing it.”
Not surprisingly, the former All-American wrestler at the University of Wyoming schedules exercise into his own daily life, including lifting weights and walking. He said a society grappling with an obesity crisis might find salvation in machines like the one he’s testing out.