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Title: On using a treadmill desk.

This topic is a bit less tech-y, but I feel as if it’s an interesting topic and worthy of expressing some opinion on. So for a bit, I’d like to write up a small post on my first 2 months or so of using a treadmill desk.

I jumped on the treadmill desk bandwagon a few months back, after initially buying a Fitbit Zip sometime in November 2013. I should write another post on my Fitbit here in the future, but as a short review: I love the tiny wearable. It’s a pretty basic pedometer tied to a great mobile app, which has a simple interface that shows my daily steps, along with a social leader board, allowing me to compare my phenomenal walking ability with the likes of Francisco Velazquez and Rahj Heinrich. I highly recommend a Fitbit.

After about a month using my Fitbit, I had solid data on what I probably should not need a wearable to figure out: I really sit a lot. As a designer, wishful-programmer, and author, I spend a lot of time behind a laptop screen during the day. With a recommended step-count of 10,000 steps per day by my Fitbit, I would average around 3,000 steps per day. That’s somewhat disappointing. Especially when a lot of research points toward the idea that sitting too much may be the silent killer of our generation.

I’ve tried standing desks fairly excessively here over the past few years, but typically fall off the wagon with that after a couple months or so. It’s not that standing is overly tiring, but more that I never see any benefits from the standing, so I just sit. But with a walking desk, I was curious as to if the increased walking would lead to benefits such as less fatigue or weight loss, so about 10 weeks ago, I went ahead and picked up a treadmill for setting up a walking desk at the office. Here’s the big reveal on my extravagant setup:


As you can see, I went pretty basic just to get started. I went with a used, relatively simple treadmill from a good family friend who hadn’t used the piece in a few years. This was an incredible savings in comparison to buying new, and even more so than if I would have looked at pre-built treadmill desks.

I don’t have much of an opinion on these pre-built desks. While they do look like great products, I think they’re a bit pricey for those looking to just get their feet wet and get started. If I find this desk to work and I continue to use a treadmill desk over the next year or so, I could see myself upgrading to such a desk. Finding a treadmill and desk that work well together is a fairly challenging task, and my desk is very much a piecemeal production. But, my primary goal was just to get started and see if this was something I could go about doing full-time.

So how have the first two months or so been? In short, I’ve been very pleased with what I’ve seen so far from the experience. I had a two week period where a stressful project saw me pushing the desk aside for a while, but I’ve gotten back on track and hope to continue my current effort for the long-term future.

My step-count numbers have improved dramatically. When I use the desk regularly, my weekly step-count numbers jump from an average of 5,000 steps to day up to as high as ~11,000–12,000 steps per day. In short, I’m almost doubling the number of steps I take, easily. Single days can jump as high as 25,000 steps or more, which I am extremely pleased with. My resting heart rate is considerably lower when I use the desk regularly, averaging about 55–60 bpm, compared to somewhere in the high 60s when not using the desk regularly.

But more importantly, I do think I feel more alert while working, and I feel better throughout the day and into the evening. And that’s the result I was most pleased with, and why I’m looking to refine how I use the desk in an effort to get even more benefits out of it.

My typical work strategy with the desk is to work while walking for most of the day, typically from when I get to work until around 2–3PM, when I honestly start to tire a bit from walking. I go at a relatively slow pace, probably averaging about 2MPH. I know, this seems extraordinarily slow, but remember that I’m doing this while typing and focusing on my computer monitor. I find this pace to be a good rate at which I can keep up with my work and walk comfortably. After I tire of walking, I typically switch over to a separate sitting desk I have at the office. I know that I’m fortunate to have a couple external monitors, separate keyboards, and other office luxuries that make this convenient, so your mileage may vary with this. I know that some people, Brett Terpstra included, are big fans of just turning off the treadmill and switching over to a standing desk for a few hours each day. I typically don’t do this, but should probably try it here sometime.

I have not seen any significant weight changes throughout the two months, although as mentioned, I did have a pretty stressful work period where I wasn’t using the desk, which also corresponded with more stress eating, and general bad eating behaviors. Unfortunately, I would also have to say that I probably tend to eat more when using the walking desk, although this is likely because of higher calorie use during the day and not necessarily a bad thing. The most disappointing thing so far is that I do find that I have been running less regularly, which I believe is partially because I just feel a bit more physically fatigued after a day of work, which leads to a lack in motivation. I just need to work to overcome this, and maybe also try morning runs or some other alternate workout schedule.

Additionally, while somewhat awkward, remember that you will be spending your day walking. I’ve actually switched to wearing a more athletic fit of underwear, because it can grow uncomfortable to walk for hours on end in boxers. Likewise, make sure you have comfortable shoes and pants. Don’t be afraid to buy athletic shorts for the desk and good gym shoes, especially if you are in a workplace where the dress code allows for this. After only two months, and my standard everyday shoes have been destroyed from the constant walking, well beyond the typical wear and tear they would see in such a time frame.

As for plans here over the next few months, the goal is to continue to use the desk daily. I’d like to average about ~15,000 steps per day at work over the summer, and then get back into the habit of 3–4 miles of running three or four times a week. If I could maintain this through September or so, I would be very curious as to how I feel after this period.

With respect to recommendations on how you can get started with a treadmill desk, my best advice is to just go find a used treadmill and get started. Don’t make excuses, don’t over shop, and don’t think you need a fancy treadmill. Most lightweight, walking-specific treadmills are absolutely fine. Get it into your office, and head out to Menards or The Home Depot in an effort to find any assortment of items that will allow you to build some sort of apparatus that will allow you to walk and type. As you go for a week or two, you’ll learn more about what you like or dislike about your setup, and you can modify as you best see fit.

I hope this quick explanation of how I work with a treadmill desk. If you have any questions, shoot me an email, I’m happy to help!