This time last year, I set up a treadmill desk in my office. I didn’t know how it would work out – or even if it would – but I was determined to give it a shot. More and more studies are pointing out the dangers of regular sitting. Not only is movement healthy, but it engages the brain and it’s always good to have an engaged brain when you’re working.
A year into the practice and I can honestly say that working on my treadmill desk is so much a part of my day that I can’t imagine not doing it. I walk slowly, probably about 1.5 kilometres an hour, which averages out to around 70 or maybe 80 steps a minute. And I take regular breaks too, working on the treadmill for an hour followed by an hour at my sit down desk. I rotate between the two stations two or three times each day, and I usually take a break somewhere in there to walk the dogs too.
After a year, here’s what I’ve learned:
I need to switch it up. After a month or so adjusting to the technique of working while walking, I began using the treadmill desk almost exclusively for several weeks. And I paid for it. My feet got sore, my back started to hurt, and my hips ended up too tight. I have SI (sacroiliac) joint issues and I worried that maybe the treadmill desk would aggravate the condition. As soon as I limited myself to an hour at a time on the treadmill, and stayed at or below 3 hours a day, I was pain free. And my chronic SI pain from regular sitting disappeared.
Shoes matter. Since I go to the gym I’m in the habit of replacing runners regularly and I always buy high end shoes. It’s even more important on the treadmill. I’m replacing my runners every six months these days.
Walking does engage the brain. It’s not a fallacy. Working on the treadmill also eliminates any tendency I might have to surf the web or check email. As long as my manuscript is open on my monitor and as soon as my feet start moving, my brain moves along with them. Getting into the story and keeping it flowing is easier when I’m engaged in physical activity,=.
Walking is easier than standing. The treadmill will sometimes stop when I’m in the middle of a scene and want to keep going. I used to stand and continue writing. I paid for that with low back strain. If the treadmill stops now when I’m in the middle of something, I finish up my paragraph or maybe two (I allow myself five minutes, max) and then I step down and take a break.
Walking makes you thirsty. At least it seems to make me thirsty. I always have a glass of water or herbal tea beside me when I write. At my sit down desk, I’d often forget to drink it. At my treadmill desk, I never do. So my water intake is up too and that’s also a good thing.
It’s not as hard as you think. Over this last year, I’ve had people ask me how it’s going and say they’d like to try a treadmill desk but they know they couldn’t do it. Don’t be so sure. The pace is so slow after a while the movement becomes habitual. And, quite honestly, if I can adjust to it, anybody can.
This Christmas, my kids got together and sprung for a FitBit which I find much more useful than a basic pedometer (mine has a sleep monitoring component which I absolutely love). With the FitBit on my wrist I’m getting a better sense of how those daily steps add up. During the week when I write, I average between 15,000 and 17,000 steps or about 10 kilometres a day.
That’s not bad for a day on the job.