My Day on a Treadmill Desk

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The next big thing in not dying?

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Today is big. As an advocate of weird standing desks, I've spent an undue amount of time thinking about what working at a treadmill desk would be like. Or a stationary bike desk, which, in terms of balance and coordination and concentration, seems more reasonable. But exercising at your desk isn't about being reasonable. 

Either way, the good people at LifeSpan read my writing, or my mind, and sent us a treadmill desk.

7:52 AM: I go all the way to the end of the hall, away from everyone, to the little office where we put the desk. I'm genuinely excited.

I turn on the desk. There's a barely audible hum. There's also a safety clip that you're meant to hook onto your clothes -- like there is on any regular treadmill -- so if you fall, it pulls the cord and the whole treadmill shuts down. Good, because I'd honestly considered that I might fall, lost in thought. Over an entire day of work, there must come some point where you just forget to keep walking. At least this way I would just collapse, instead of being flung onto my back and then sucked into the gears of the desk motor.

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8:05: I turn down the pace because my head is bobbing around, as a head does when one walks, which makes reading tough. I also don't want to break a sweat. It's next-level if you look at this as an opportunity for an active workout, as opposed to a sort-of-moving alternative to sitting at a desk for ten straight hours.

8:35: I do feel a little more focused. I also take my rain boots off, which were not made for walking.

8:50: A little bit of nausea. Probably not dissimilar to what you'd feel if you stare at these GIFs. So I turn down the speed again, all the way, as slow as it goes. That's 0.4 miles per hour, which is ... at that pace it would take 65 hours to do a marathon.

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10:50: I've been pretty productive. I guess if you're like me -- somewhere on the ADHD spectrum -- then the part of your brain that wants to keep you from focusing ("check twitter" "find new music" "talk to Spencer") needs occupying. We keep hearing about research that tells us we're not as good at multitasking as we think. But is walking really multitasking? I feel like the simple task of keeping me upright occupies that distractible part of my brain and leaves the main part of my brain able to do its thing, undisturbed. Like how you're supposedly more efficient when you work in a coffee shop with just a little ambient noise.

11:14: Feeling hot, have to take off my sweater. But not sweating. Still very positive about this.

11:32: I turn around and see magazine editor Scott Stossel looking back at me through the little window next to the door. I quickly mute "Invisible Touch" and open the door, explaining the socks and t-shirt. 

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12:50: Walk to get lunch with Eleanor, Spencer, Heather, and Natalie. They're all active, healthy people, but they're not as interested in the treadmill desk as I am and won't be trying it. I tell them all about it nonetheless. But it doesn't bode well for the Millennial treadmill desk market. 

1:24: We brought our food back to the office. A lot of people do sad desk lunches, which I don't advocate, but sometimes it has to be done. So I thought I should test that out with the treadmill. If you lean forward and balance a good amount of weight on your elbows, it is entirely possible to eat at the treadmill desk. I never spilled coffee on myself or missed my mouth with the fork or threw up any food.

2:30: I think I'm wearing a deep groove in the part of my brain that tells me to keep walking at this pace.

3:20: Okay now it's getting old. I keep unintentionally standing off to the sides of the treadmill belt. Have to make myself not do this. But every time I get engrossed in a gchat I notice I've stepped to the sides. The nice thing about being at the end of the hall in this little office is I can verbally encourage myself to keep going.

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3:30: The machine says I'm at 8,000 steps, almost 3 miles. For me that's about 200 calories burned, or about one beer. So, not that much. But again, I've been going inordinately slowly.

4:10: I'm leaning so heavily forward onto the desk, moving so indolently that it barely counts as standing, much less walking. I really could not be more different from the insouciant people in the treadmill desk ads. It's not fatigue so much as just viscerally not wanting to walk anymore.

Okay, I'm powering down because I have to go. But my primary thought is that this would take some getting used to, before you'd want to use it all day every day. Getting up and doing it for a bit during an otherwise sedentary day, though, could be great. 


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James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The AtlanticHe is the host of If Our Bodies Could Talk.

 
 
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