Courtesy of LifeSpan
Walk While You Work

When you think of which aspects of your life enrich your physical health, your job is likely not one of them. We associate jobs with stress, lack of rest and lack of time—the things that interfere with good health rather than enhance it.

LifeSpan, a fitness equipment company that manufactures a treadmill desk, contacted me to see if I’d be interested in giving their product a test walk. Treadmill desks allow you to walk slowly while you work on your computer. I accepted the invitation, and the treadmill arrived at my home a week later. Before I tell you my thoughts on the treadmill desk experience, I should let you know that I have no financial interest in this equipment—no payment, no shares, nothing.

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Here are my opinions and observations on the treadmill desk:

1. Set up:  I was able to take the treadmill out of the box and completely assemble and set it up in about an hour while also keeping an eye on my one-year-old and four-year-old. It was easy. I only needed a little assistance with lifting the desktop onto the posts.

2. Appearance and size: It was larger than I expected but looks streamlined and professional. The desk is about 46 inches across and 31 inches deep, so it has more than enough room for a computer, papers and organizers. Just keep in mind that the treadmill desk is one big piece of equipment, and you must have a few feet of clearance behind it for safety purposes.

3. Feel of the walking experience: If you are used to a high-end treadmill made for running and with a great shock-absorbing deck, you will likely feel a big difference in sensation as you walk. This is not a $3,000 treadmill, and you can feel that. The deck is harder, with less shock absorption. That said, this treadmill is not meant for running. In fact, it does not go over 4 miles per hour. This justifies the less sophisticated deck, and you benefit from the lower price.

4. Ergonomics and comfort: The front edge of the desk is padded to add comfort while resting your forearms or wrists on it as you write, type or sift through materials. You can also easily adjust the desk height to accommodate personal preferences or biomechanics issues.

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5. Practicality: Here is where the real meat lies. Are you actually going to use a treadmill desk? I did a couple of experiments to find out if I would be the type to use one. I am a person who still likes to write with pen and paper. I also use a computer. I do not yet use those small hand-held devices that allow you to take notes on a tiny screen and download it onto the computer. So you could say I am moderately tech-savvy, but not an early adopter and exclusive user of all of the newest gadgets. For my first experiment, I wrote in my daily journal while walking. I had to write quite a bit slower, it was sloppier than usual and I could only walk at most 2.2 miles per hour while writing. I had to use the type of concentration I see on my kids’ faces when they’re just learning to write. I got a little better with practice. Still, I would rather sit down and write quickly and neatly and then get up and walk at a much faster clip than 2.2 mph. I found the treadmill most useful in a couple of situations: work calls during which I needed to occasionally jot down a few notes or check something on the computer and while doing research at the computer—it was perfect for both.

LifeSpan said that many customers hit the ‘pause’ button when they want to write something by hand. When you’re standing and working, versus sitting and working, you’re still burning about three times more calories. For just jotting down the occasional note, however, I didn’t find pausing it necessary.

When I tried to get my husband to try the treadmill desk, he said he would never use one, largely because he uses handheld and hands-free devices almost exclusively. He can place those devices in the trays of any regular treadmill, where you have the advantages of a better deck, faster speeds and an incline. And besides, he prefers to completely separate work from working out. So for him or those like him, it’s mainly a question of fit, rather than any issues with the treadmill desk itself.

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If you are contemplating purchasing a treadmill desk, I suggest trying it out first. Write at it. Type at it. Sift through papers. Talk on the phone while you walk. If you like it and will use it, you’ll benefit from it. You definitely feel rewarded when you’ve been getting work done and then notice that you’ve walked 2 miles while you did it. If you can work and get healthy at the same time, that’s a rare combination you want to keep up.