CEOs / Founders / Interviews

Balancing the Grind with Eric Soehngen, M.D., Ph.D., Co-Founder & CEO of Walkolution

Dr. Eric Soehngen, M.D., Ph.D. is the Co-Founder & CEO of Walkolution, the company behind the world’s first noiseless and non-electric walking treadmill for healthy work environments.

With Walkolution, Eric’s mission is to correct a fundamental mistake of our civilization: the invention of the chair.

In addition, Eric is a senior medical doctor and holds a Ph.D. in stem cell physiology from the Technical University of Munich (TUM). He is also the author of the bestselling book Death by Sitting: Why We Need a Movement Revolution.

Sponsored by the Walkolution Treadmill Desk, work healthier with a treadmill desk.

1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I am a doctor with heart and soul and have been interested in optimizing health all my late teen and adult life. Before I founded Walkolution, I was a senior physician in a busy emergency room and a partner in a medical practice.

Funnily enough, the other day somebody asked me how I could give up this beautiful profession. As a doctor in a clinic and practice I worked on symptoms, with Walkolution I have the chance to fundamentally influence the health of many more people positively.

Much more than I could do in my conventional work as a doctor. Therefore I feel more aligned with the idea behind the medical profession than ever before.

2) You launched Walkolution in 2017 with your co-founder Frank Ackermann. Can you talk more about your motivation behind creating this company?

For about 10-15 years we have seen a fundamental paradigm shift in medicine. Our sedentary lifestyle makes us sick, and much more than we assumed.

Those who sit for more than 6-8 hours a day dramatically increase their risk of almost all diseases of civilization, such as diabetes, heart attack, cancer, stroke, depression and dementia. Back pain and overweight are only the tip of the iceberg.

The tragic thing is that we can’t compensate for all the sitting with 1 hour of exercise in the evening and standing at work doesn’t help either. What people need is continuous low level movement throughout the day, while they work and not as an additional item on their already packed to-do lists.

Since there is nothing on the market to remedy this situation, we have founded Walkolution.

3) Are there any workplace design trends you’re seeing right now that you think will become a staple in all offices in the future?

Health-promoting workplaces, that allow for sufficient movement will become a basic requirement in the offices of the future as the evidence about the health risks of a sedentary workplace is accumulating.

It will be a distinguishing factor with which employers are going to position themselves. However, perhaps an equally important aspect is that a movement friendly workplace or educational setting also offers unbeatable mental benefits and is therefore an important prerequisite for a high level of cognitive performance at work or at school or university.

The recent events related to the pandemic also show that working from home can be very effective, as long periods of commuting are eliminated and, provided the right conditions are in place, the opportunity to work without distractions is provided.

Here we are probably at the very beginning of a revolution, that will completely shake the current understanding of our working landscape.

4) As the CEO of Walkolution, what does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

If I am lucky enough to be in the office without many appointments, I walk an average of 20,000 steps on a Walkolution Professional (treadmill desk) while working. I could never imagine to work in a seated position anymore.

We have a very creative and open environment at our office with extremely flat hierarchies. We try out a lot and new ideas are quickly assembled as new prototypes, that are tested on the same day. It is a fun place to be and no day is like the other.

5) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

For me as an entrepreneur it is more a “life-life” balance. There is no hard distinction for me. I love what I do because I have decided to do what I do. This carries the risk that the boundaries between work and private life often become blurred.

I first had to learn to deal with this freedom. It only really clicked when I understood that I am more productive and balanced if I force myself to switch from working on my company at certain hours during the day and don´t think about it during these off-times.

6) In the past 12 months, have you started/stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

Like many of my colleagues, I lived a relatively hectic life in big cities for a long time. This was increasingly in stark contrast to my convictions about what a healthy environment actually means for people.

I therefore made the decision to move into the mountains. This means a relatively long way to work, but the beautiful mountain atmosphere and the fresh air while running in the morning are definitely worth it.

Since then I sleep deeper and keep a natural sleep-wake rhythm without an alarm clock and listen to my inner clock.

7) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

Three recent eye-opening books, full of exciting new science, that I would also recommend to every patient if he or she wants to optimize his or her health:

  1. Shane O´Mara: In Praise of Walking: The New Science of how We Walk and why It’s Good for Us
  2. David Sinclair: Lifespan: Why We Age―and Why We Don’t Have To
  3. Matthew Walker: Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams

Two podcasts, that I regularly listen to include:

  1. Evidence based longevity advice from Dr. Rhonda Patrick’s Found My Fitness
  2. Live Long and Master Aging podcast with Peter Bowes

8) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

To be honest, I think we need fewer tools than we often think. I am trying to simplify my life. Running shoes are one example. For years I tried to find the perfect running shoe, until I found out that you don’t really need shoes at all, you should run barefoot.

I have travelled a lot to the so-called “Blue Zones”, areas with a high density of healthy people who reach a very high age over 100 years. The often minimalistic lives of these people should be an inspiration to all of us if we strive to grow old healthy and happy.

9) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?

I am thinking of someone who has achieved continuous growth over a long period of time in the following four areas: fulfilling professional success, being anchored in a stable and enriching social environment, a healthy lifestyle and a balanced state of mind. Social position or economic success of the person does not play a role.

10) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

Yes, life is movement! We as a species have changed much too fast in the last 200 years and many things like sitting in chair all day long seem to be self-evident for us, but are not self-evident for our bodies.

To integrate continuous low-intensity movement into everyday life can have a tremendous effect on physical and especially mental fitness. I would like to support the following generations in living this change and I am happy about every contact who wants to support this.

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This conversation is brought to you by the Walkolution Treadmill Desk, offering people a real alternative to sitting. An office for humans.

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.