Finding the right pace on a treadmill desk

Treadmill desks, which consist of an adjustable-height desk surface atop a treadmill optimized for use at slow speeds, were clearly gaining ground.

Published: March 15, 2014 4:12:00 am

On Day 3 of my long-coveted trial of a treadmill desk, I sat down.

Day 1 had been all about showing off.

Yes, you can type while walking, I chirped to my fellow reporters.

No, you can’t fall off at the machine’s top speed of two miles per hour, I assured the ergonomics safety squad.

On Day 2, while strolling in my newsroom cubicle, I had written emails, made phone calls, read material for a story I am researching, bragged to my friends on instant message and scrolled triumphantly through my “tread desk” folder, where I had filed such articles from my own newspaper as “Get Up. Get Out. Don’t Sit,” “Stand Up While You Read This!,” “How Walking May Lower Breast Cancer Risk” and “Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?”

By lunchtime on Day 3, at a slow-but-steady one mile per hour, I had burned about 300 calories without noticing. When I finished a long phone interview, I was thirsty, a little sweaty and downright cheery, feeling the slight mood elevation that comes from a walk through the park.

But when an editor asked for the top of my story, I spent half an hour straining to form a sentence. Slowing down didn’t help.
“You know I need all of your energy,” my brain seemed to be saying, “if you want this to be good.”
First commercialised in 2007, treadmill desks, which consist of an adjustable-height desk surface atop a treadmill optimized for use at slow speeds, were clearly gaining ground.

It took just a few minutes to remove my regular desk to make room for the $4,500 loaner from Steelcase. (LifeSpan, Ergotron, TreadDesk and others also make popular models, starting around $1,000). Other than it moving under my feet, it’s just your basic desk with a console that displays my distance, time and calories burned.

After a few false starts, I began to learn to adjust my speed to the task at hand. Sometimes I was walking too fast to concentrate, but sometimes a slow pace seemed to be a drag on my work. So when I felt my body getting in the way of my brain, I just pushed the treadmill’s up or down buttons.

When it comes to synthesising a lot of information into a coherent article, the hardest part of my job, I still have the powerful urge to sit. And I pause when editors come by to talk, because it seems rude to burn calories while they stand still. But ideal email-writing speeds range from half a mile to 1.5 miles per hour, and the perfect balance for phone interviews is closer to two miles per hour.

As my second week drew to a close, I was logging five-mile days. It seemed clear that I was reaping some of the health benefits of the treadmill desk.

But as I started to write this – sitting down – I wondered whether I had missed out on something almost as important that it might offer.

Could walking while writing actually improve my stories, as well as my health? Could those punchy but profound endings that I invariably conceive when I’m out exercising but can’t remember when I’m in front of the screen be channeled by the tread desk?
I might just have to keep it for a while to find out.

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