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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.