Treadmill Desks: for a Writer’s Good Health

Look out! I’m getting ready to preach!

I’m so excited about an answer to my pain condition, a condition aggravated by decades of sitting at a desk. If you’ve read my blog very long (or my Writer’s First Aid or More Writer’s First Aid), then you know I talk about health issues for writers. Even if you have no pain, it’s a big issue, as you’ll see below.

I’ve had headaches, upper back pain, and neck pain (and multiple surgeries)–and all these conditions are made worse by hours slumped at a desk. (Yes, no matter how straight my posture is at the beginning, it’s not long before my shoulders are rounded and my head is forward.)

I wish I had taken out stock in Excedrin years ago. I’m sure I’ve kept them in business.

Not anymore!

My New Exciting Work Station

My dear writing friend, Maribeth Boelts, wrote to me a couple months ago about her new treadmill desk. It was helping her with a chronic pain condition of her own, and she urged me try it. I researched the idea (see sources below), read about the benefits, saw how some writers had constructed their own inexpensive treadmill desks, and decided to try it.

Maribeth had assured me she got the knack of typing while walking in less than 15 minutes. I figured I would give it a week–I don’t think I’m that coordinated. But she was right–it took less than 15 minutes!

She also mentioned that the constant walking took care of her “ants in the pants” feeling while sitting at a desk. I have found that to be true too. I think better when I’m moving, and since you’re always walking, you don’t feel the “itch” to get up all the time. In fact, I use a timer now to remind myself after an hour to get off and walk on “dry land.” The first week I had the desk, I worked once for three hours without stopping, and it took a while to get my “sea legs” back when I got off. But what a nice problem to have! Concentrating too long!

Dangers of Sitting

A New York Times article sums up some dangers of sitting all day–and this also applies to people who exercise at a gym or run:

“It doesn’t matter if you go running every morning, or you’re a regular at the gym. If you spend most of the rest of the day sitting – in your car, your office chair, on your sofa at home – you are putting yourself at increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers and an early death. In other words, irrespective of whether you exercise vigorously, sitting for long periods is bad for you.”

And consider this from “Sitting All Day: Worse for You Than You Might Think”: “If you’re sitting, your muscles are not contracting, perhaps except to type. But the big muscles, like in your legs and back, are sitting there pretty quietly,” Blair says. And because the major muscles aren’t moving, metabolism slows down. “We’re finding that people who sit more have less desirable levels” of cholesterol, blood sugar, triglycerides and even waist size, he says, which increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and a number of health problems.

For more about his, see “Your Body’s Biggest Enemy: Sitting!” There is now officially a “sitting disease”! See also these health benefits.

Not sold yet? Did I mention that I now have to eat a lot more in order not to lose weight? For someone my age whose metabolism went into a coma a decade ago, it’s been heavenly to eat what I want! (Or you can slowly drop unwanted weight, if you prefer.)

Benefits of Walking While Working

This article lists more than 60 benefits resulting from using a treadmill desk. Here are just the first ten:

  • 1.Weight loss of up to 50-70 lbs in a single year without restrictive dieting
  • 2.Reduces stress and depression symptoms 30%-47% faster and more effectively than medications (source: Harvard Medical School)
  • 3.Long-term Success: Requires no extra time, effort or motivation
  • 4.50% reduction in the risk of Type 2 Diabetes (source: American Diabetes Association)
  • 5.Reduces the risk of cancers 30-70% (source: National Institutes for Health)
  • 6.Improves memory and cognitive abilities as much as 15% in a 6 month period (source: University of Illinois)
  • 7.A workout at work with a TrekDesk treadmill desk slows physical and mental aging processes
  • 8.90% reduction in risk of initial heart attacks (source: American Heart Association)
  • 9.70% reduction in the risk of stroke (source: American Heart Association)
  • 10.Strengthens the immune system, prevents disease and restores health.

Practical Tips: Money

If you decide to try this, let me get practical with you. You don’t have to spend much money, even though there are treadmill desks available for several thousand dollars. If you already have a treadmill with straight horizontal arms, you can make this desk for zero dollars. You can also find used (but like new!) treadmills very inexpensively on craigslist. Because my office is very small and already crammed full, we got a treadmill that easily folds up when not in use.

My husband built the wall mounted shelf from scrap lumber in the garage. See photo right below. I think since the treadmill desk is working so well for me that I will get some paint and give the shelf some color. Ditto the keyboard shelf.

The keyboard shelf is just a board laid across the treadmill arms. (Again, the arms must be level.) Because I wanted to be able to fold the treadmill up, my keyboard shelf is removable (held on with Velcro straps underneath). See third photo. Sometimes when I have boring reading to do (like a marketing book), I move the keyboard off and read there. I clipped on a reading light. The walking keeps me from falling asleep while doing necessary reading.

Practical Tips: Clothes

Although I’m wearing jeans in the photo above, I don’t stay in jeans or sweats very long. You warm up fairly quickly, even at very low speeds. Dress in layers so you can peel off as you work. I use a fan later in the day.

And wear good walking or running shoes! I tried it barefoot one day, and my legs really hurt the next day.

Practical Tips: Speed

When you read about people’s experience with treadmill desks, you’ll hear advice that you should start at 1 mile per hour. Go ahead and do that, but if you’re like me (and Maribeth), you’ll be comfortable walking faster. I like it at 2 mph. For some reason, the 1 mph hurt my hip and felt awkwardly slow. Experiment.

Some people recommend standing at a computer desk without walking. I tried that a couple times and got a real backache (probably because I don’t stand up straight any better than I sit up straight.) Walking forces you upright!

Remember to take breaks too. You’ll find your brain working faster when you walk, and so it’s tempting to go for hours and hours without a break. Set a timer for a while until you get used to your own rhythm.

PLEASE NOTE One last thing: there are treadmill desks for laptop computers, where you have to raise your hands higher. I have not tried this with my laptap, and it doesn’t look comfortable to me at all. It might work fine, but I can’t personally recommend it to you. My treadmill desk is for a desktop model.

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