Sit. Stand. Walk!

When I was in my teens, I was a twig of a kid, tall and skinny. I think we all get our personal perception of our body type from how we were in high school. So I still have this picture in my head of myself as your average nerdy beanpole.

But the mirror tells a different story. In the last 15 years, I’ve put on a lot of weight. Years spent sitting at my desk for long hours, eating convenience foods rather than proper meals, have taken their toll: I’ve gone from an apparently normal 160 to a pear-shaped sub-200 pounds. And that, friends, is one barrier I don’t want to cross.

Exercise regimens have failed over the years, because there’s too much goddamn work to do, and I have a family to hang out with. So, about two years ago, I acquired a standing desk. It’s really nice and pro-looking, with a dark finish and a motor that lets me move from sitting to standing with the push of a button. I used the iPhone app Lose It! to record the modest calorie burning that I attained by standing all day (about 50 per hour), and for a time, I tried to take in fewer calories. But in the way of things, that didn’t work out either, and my weight remained the same.

Sitting is definitely bad, but standing alone is not enough. It was time to take the next step: walking while working.

I’ve seen a lot of advice written about walking while working, and I wasn’t particularly thrilled about it. The setups looked gimpy and messy. That’s because treadmills traditionally have handles and top-mounted consoles. People have found ingenious ways to strap keyboards and displays around that stuff, and I think my wife has the best setup that I’ve seen, but clearly that won’t work for my standing desk.

The answer came from an article by Lex Friedman for Macworld: the TreadDesk. It’s a simple flat walking deck with a tethered control panel. Including purchase, delivery, taxes and UPS Ground’s customs brokerage boning fee, it was about $1,200. The TreadDesk arrived about a month ago and I’ve used it every working day since.

I want to cover a few topics in this post: making a treadmill part of your office, some thoughts about the TreadDesk in particular, and the benefits I’ve seen from using it. Let’s dive in.

Fitting the TreadDesk into the Office

My office is the front living room in my house; it’s a pretty sweet setup that offers tons of natural light. However, my office was arranged in such a way that the treadmill didn’t fit. It’s a 5-foot-long piece of hardware that sits on the floor; finding a way to integrate it naturally into my working environment was decidedly non-trivial. Here’s a picture of my office when the treadmill first arrived:

Officev1

TreadDesk actually sells flooring components that can sit around their treadmill. It makes a raised platform that turns the treadmill into a moving level surface, letting you sit and stand on the same ground, as it were. I didn’t opt for that solution, given the cost and the complexity of arranging it on my floor. So the first step was to move everything in my office to give the treadmill more space, but keep it out of the way when not in use.

The ultimate solution came about thanks to Erin’s clever use of paper cutouts to approximate the size and positioning of the various furniture items in my office. We could then readily determine the best way to arrange things. Here’s the layout of my office in its “before” state:

Floorplan

The new plan puts the treadmill and desk on the opposite wall, and gives me access to the full length of the main desk, so both treadmill and chair can sit side-by-side. My 24-inch Cinema Display is on an articulating arm, and is positioned to favour the standing/walking side of the desk, while it can swing to work with the sitting side as well. Here’s a picture of the new desk. The whole office feels like a more open environment, and I’m really happy with the way it turned out:

Photo

The take-home here is that if you’re getting a treadmill in your office, you have to find a way to get it against a wall — if it’s sitting in the middle of your floor space it’s going to look like shite, and you don’t want that.

TreadDesk: The Review

The treadmill itself came in a heavy-duty cardboard box, trussed up like Hannibal Lecter. There was very little installation; you simply pull it out of the box and connect the console.

The treadmill itself is the model of simplicity: it appears to be of pretty high quality, but it’s not as heavy-duty as treadmills you’d see in a gym: keep in mind it’s intended for walking only, and has a maximum speed of 4 miles per hour. To effectively work while walking, the fastest you could go is 1.5 mph, and I have it at an even 1.

The treadmill runs very quietly. Turn it on, set your speed and start walking; it’s that simple. In the four-plus weeks I’ve had it, I’ve found it easy to clean around as well: the back is easy to lift and get the vacuum cleaner through underneath.

As much as I’d like the treadmill to be a leave-it-and-forget-it proposition, it does require some amount of maintenance. Every month (assuming you use it every day, as I do), you need to re-lubricate the walking deck beneath the belt. There’s a provided tiny bottle of lubricating oil for this purpose, and it’s fairly simple to apply. I can see that I’ll have to hit the local Canadian Tire in a few weeks to get a larger supply, as it looks like I’m definitely not getting more than three applications’ worth.

There’s really only one complaint that I have about this TreadDesk: the console.

Photo copy

I included a can of Programmer Juice to give you a sense of scale. Holy crap, is it big! This is the sort of console that would be included with a Soviet-era treadmill desk. “In Soviet Russia, treadmill walks you!”

I have this fantasy of mastering electronics, putting together an Arduino playset, and hacking the signals to the treadmill to make a more elegant console. But in practice, this console, which sits on a very sturdy, heavy, pad-footed metal stand, works very well. However, the console tracks time, but its display is limited to 99 minutes and 99 seconds; once it trips over that amount, it goes back to zero. Of course, I’m walking for much longer than that, so I can’t get an accurate time for a day’s “travel” (of course, if I’m walking at 1mph, then I can calculate the time. But still!). But I’ve learned to care more about the distance (in miles, naturally) and calorie count.

Health Benefits

So I’ve laid down a small bag of cash, turned my office upside down, and changed the way I work. Is it worthwhile?

On the day my treadmill arrived, I weighed 198 lbs. This morning, five weeks later, I weighed in at 193 lbs.

I can feel it working. My legs are tired after a day of walking. After the first two days, I had to stop walking for a couple days so I could recover. You have to start slowly, even though walking 1mph feels absolutely silly. Start with a couple hours a day, and then gradually increase your time.

Even now, I still feel like I’m hitting my limits after walking 5 miles. Today I pushed myself a bit and walked over 6. Sitting down is bliss. In the early days, I found I was absolutely ravenous with hunger by mealtimes. Things seem to have settled down a bit there, fortunately.

The console calculator indicates that an hour of walking at 1mph equals about 80 calories. My six-plus mile walk today netted me 500 calories — a pretty serious dent on a day’s caloric intake! The Lose It! app tells me I get 1600 calories a day to eat with; calories burned in exercise give me more that I can use. So you can see how much of a difference even 400 calories (my average per day) can make on a diet plan.

To make a long story short, I do feel that the TreadDesk is going to help me lose weight.

Conclusions

I undertook the decision to setup a treadmill desk very seriously. The cost was extremely difficult to swallow, especially knowing that a lot of it was going to go into shipping and UPS! But now that it’s here, and now that I’m using it, and now that it’s proving to work, I couldn’t be more pleased.

As I work during the day, I see a lot of people jogging by my house; everyone trying their own exercise routines. The funny thing is, I don’t see the same people all the time. It’s a sure sign that I’m watching these people try to get into shape and ultimately failing.

The best part of the treadmill desk is that it integrates fitness into my workday. It’s a delicious hack that can have real benefits. I may not be able to change my over-stuffed schedule, prepare healthy home-cooked dinners every night, or get out for a run. But while I’m working, I’m losing weight. And that’s pretty satisfying.

12 thoughts on “Sit. Stand. Walk!

  1. Sure. It’s been over two months now and I’m still going strong. Shortly after writing this entry I kicked up my speed from 1 to 1.5 mph, which took almost no effort to accommodate, yet dramatically changed my calorie expenditure. Now it’s not hard to burn well over 600 calories a day. My weight loss is proceeding a very predictable 1 pound per week.

    As for the comfort of working on the treadmill, there have been no ill effects. My leg strength has improved, though it’s still a great relief to sit down afterward! There are times in the morning when I feel so exhausted I really want to stop, but I power through it and then it’s easy.

    There’s no question that it’s a workout. As autumn has come along here, I usually wear a sweater; that comes off within the first hour of my workday. I’m not sweating, but my temperature is elevated.

    I’m still very happy with this. I’ve now lost 10 pounds. Woohoo.

  2. Are you kidding? If I couldn’t be effective on the treadmill, the thing would be in the garbage long before now.

  3. Thanks for the review! I’m up in here in Canada too, so its good to know how much cash I’ll need to save up for this puppy.I spend the majority of my time at my computer unfortunately so its well worth the investment. I’m thinking of pairing this up with the motorized Geek Desk.

    I’m glad to see it’s helping you lose weight! Being a programmer, I understand the frustration of being stuck on a seat.

    I’m also time starved and found a good workout from the Insanity training DVD that is 16 minutes long (cardio abs). It could be a great addition to your tight schedule and help boost your calorie burning through the day as well. I’m thinking with that, the Tread desk and a decent diet would be the perfect combo for us coders.

    Thanks again for the write up, it has convinced be to buy the tread.

    Cheers

  4. Hi Lawrence, Thanks for writing. I have been loving the treadmill in the intervening months. Unfortunately, the motor has recently had some troubles: a grinding noise and noticeably slower performance. While I had some difficulty getting through to TreadDesk at first, they ultimately did (claiming attendance at a trade show), and quickly righted it. In fact, I’m supposed to be in receipt of the new motor tomorrow, and I’ll be installing it myself.

    I’ve come to rely on the treadmill; using it less over the past two weeks has been difficult, and my weight loss progress has slowed. I’ve already lost over 10 pounds!

    Still, I’m willing to write this off as a bad motor, and probably shouldn’t impact your decision to buy. Good luck!

  5. Thanks for the follow-up. Keep us posted how the motor installation goes. I’ll be moving out next month and will definitely be getting the Ikea Desk (in white) and will get either the tread, or there’s a cheaper treadmill that can be modified, I can’t find the link now but I found it on Lifehacker. My only worry with regular treadmills is energy consumption, noise, and apparently their motors could burn out if on all day, which the TreadDesk claims would not happen with theirs. I hope your case is rare. Out of curiosity did you vacuum the motor every month as they instructed?

  6. I received the new motor last night and installed it in about an hour. Most of that time was spent struggling with some of the nuts, which were unbelievably tight! With the new motor in place, performance is dramatically improved. However, there’s a low-pitched growl now coming from the motor, which I fear is not a normal sound. I’ve let them know in an email this morning, but for the time being I’m walking with it to see if I can deal with the sound.

    I’ll follow up as the situation develops.

  7. How about now? Still walking? My treadmill arrives tomorrow and i will be building my desk this week – hoping you are still liking your walking desk, and wondering how it’s impacting your health…thanks for sharing!

  8. Yup! It’s fantastic. I’ve lost 20 pounds now. I’m on it as I write this! Best of luck with your new tread desk.

Comments are closed.