I Tried It: Treadmill Desk

My monthlong experiment has come to an end. So would I recommend buying a treadmill desk? Read on for the pros and cons.

Here I am demonstrating the treadmill desk. Ignore the footwear—I usually walked in sneakers or flip-flops.

I just wrapped up reporting a piece on workplace wellness—look for it in Philly Mag’s October issue—so it’s perfect timing to get a little introspective about my monthlong treadmill-desk experiment. If you follow Be Well Philly on Facebook (tsk-tsk if we’re not already friends), you know I’ve been housing a LifeSpan TR1200 treadmill desk in the corner of my office, and that I’ve been using it off and on for the past few weeks. Here are my takeaways—the good, the bad and everything in between.

Walking While Working Is Not as Hard as It Seems

I’m one of those people that can’t for the life of me read a magazine or my Kindle while running on the treadmill. The few times I’ve tried, all manner of motion-sickness symptoms have set in. And more than once while trying to follow a thrilling Us Weekly update on TomKat (RIP), I’ve almost lost my balance and flown off the treadmill completely. Not pretty.

So I’ll admit that I was a little nervous that this whole experiment would be over before it began based on what I expected to be my complete inability to get any work done while walking. Guess what? Working while walking was a total breeze. I noticed that once I got moving, I completely forgot I was walking at all. My old-lady eyes and penchant for motion sickness meant I had to increase the view size of webpages to read them without losing my place, but that’s nothing a little Command-Shift-Plus Sign (+) couldn’t fix. I found that I was able to comfortably walk sans sickness at about 2.5 miles per hour; this model goes up to 4 MPH for speedier types.

You Will Lose Track of Time

One of my least favorite things about running on a treadmill is all the clock-watching I can’t help but do. I’m good for maybe the first 15 minutes or so, but then I have to play mental games with myself to force my eyes not to stare at the seconds ticking by ever so slowly. Things like: “Okay, you can’t look at the time until the commercial break. No! Don’t look! Ugh, you looked. I could have sworn I’ve been on here longer than 15:30.”

Sort of like that.

My experience on the treadmill desk couldn’t have been more opposite. Maybe it’s my stellar ability to focus on work, distractions be damned, but I found that working was the perfect distraction for the physical output. The first day I hopped on, laptop fired up, I walked an hour like that. I remember looking down being surprised that 53 minutes had already elapsed and that I already had a few miles under my belt. Talk about multitasking.

You Will Be the Office Spectacle—At Least At First

Before the treadmill desk arrived at Philly Mag, I thought it wise to warn my coworkers. I envisioned it showing up one day and, without having told anyone, spending an entire work week having to explain the machine, why it was here, and what it was for. I mean, I like my coworkers well enough and will shoot the breeze with the best of them, but I could foresee this little dance of explanation getting a tad exhausting. Not to mention, I figured I wouldn’t get a lick of work done with all the questions.

So I emailed everyone a few days before the thing arrived to give them a heads up and invite them to hop on it whenever they felt like using it. Unfortunately, this did nothing to assuage the questions. Eventually I got my spiel down pretty well and was able to rattle off answers to the whys and whens and hows pretty efficiently, but still …

The good news is, the novelty wore off in about a week, and now we’re back to business as usual, even if there’s a giant treadmill in the corner; we’ve all learned to ignore it. But should you get one of these things and you’re more of the office-hermit type, consider yourself warned.

I Felt More Energized …

You know what sucks? The post-lunch, mid-afternoon slump. It happens to me almost every day around 2 or 3 p.m. You know what’s the perfect remedy for said slump? A treadmill desk. The afternoons were by far my favorite time to walk and work because I saw the most benefits: higher energy levels, more productivity, and that good kind of muscle-tired you get after you walk more than you sit.

… And Less Guilty About Sitting

One of the unfortunate side effects of my job is the fact that I’m extremely privy to all the ways my bad office habits are slowly but surely killing me. Especially in the past few months, study after study (after study after study after study) have proffered serious warnings about the dangers of sedentary behavior and too much sitting, often linked to all the sitting we do at our desks at work. The highlights: too much sitting can decrease life expectancy; increase your risk for Type 2 diabetes and heart disease; and pack on nearly 15 pounds a year in unburned calories, to name a few.

So having a treadmill desk around to offset at least some of that appeased my sedentary guilt. Not all of it—I never walked for the entire day, after all—but it definitely helped me feel less guilty about those hours-long stretches when I was chained to my chair.

Having An Amenable Office Environment Helps

One of my biggest takeaways from my reporting on workplace-wellness initiatives (again, October issue! Hollerrrr!) was that for any program to be successful, the physical office environment has to be set up to accommodate it. In the case of treadmill desks, two things would make the setup ideal: a common space for it to live where anyone in the office could hop on for a turn, and a space that’s somewhat removed—or at least separated from—the working office spaces of your coworkers so you don’t distract them with the thud-thud-thuds of your walking. The Philly Mag office space is pretty maxed out, and we don’t have a common area big enough, or removed enough, from the offices to accommodate a treadmill desk. And so the desk came to live in my office, which was nice and convenient for me but proved to be a tad distracting for my neighbors (we have super thin walls in these parts). A better set up, if we had it, would have been a break room or an empty office somewhere where the walker wouldn’t be a pest.

Another tip: If your treadmill desk is there to stay, and in a common space where anyone can use it, you want to make sure it’s equipped with desk and office supplies that people might need. A working phone, for example, so you can do a conference call; maybe even an old computer where you could at least log on to the Web to do some reading. We have desktop computers here at Philly Mag, so to make the best use of my treadmill-desk time, I took to hauling my home laptop to the office. (If you’re already an office with laptops, this would be less of an issue, of course). My coworkers who periodically hopped on for some walking time did the same. On the days that I forgot my laptop or had to leave it at home, little to no walking got done.

So, Would I Recommend Getting a Treadmill Desk?

Yes and no. Yes, if your office is on board with it. Before you take the plunge, you’ll obviously want to get approval from your boss (mine thought I was crazy for wanting to try one, but he seemed amused enough with the experiment to let me give it a whirl), and talk to your coworkers to see if they’d have any interest in walking while working. Find a space that’s suitable for the machine, then take some measurements. It fit fine in the corner of my office, but the desk space was a lot bigger than I would ever feasibly need. If there’s a model with a smaller desk surface, that’s the one I would buy.

On the other hand, if your boss is wishy-washy about it and your coworkers seem less than enthused, I might abandon my big plans for a treadmill desk. A better (less bothersome, less space-consuming) option might be a standing desk. The more deluxe versions of these have built-in lifts that, at the push of a button, raise and lower the desktop so you can easily move between standing and sitting while you work. It eliminates the walking, of course, but you’ll still get the benefits of breaking your sitting habits. And really, that’s what these contraptions are all about, anyway.

The LifeSpan TR1200 costs $1,299. You can assemble it yourself or pay $199 for “concierge” delivery and assembly. Leisure Fitness in Montgomeryille (1460 Bethlehem Pike, North Wales) has one on the showroom floor so you can try it. Other local stores with in-stock treadmill desks: Leisure Fitness locations in Bryn Mawr (850 West Lancaster Avenue) and Mount Laurel (1410 Nixon Drive).

>> Tell us: Do you use a treadmill or standing desk? What do you like and dislike? Or, if not, would you want one in your office? Share in the comments!

Check out our other “I Tried It” posts here.