The Treadmill Desk : A Hearty Recommendation

Last year for Christmas I bought myself a treadmill desk—something that had been on my writer wish list for years. I put it off for a long time though, as I find that most exercise equipment gets used for a month, then gathers dust for a few years, until finally making its way into a garage sale.



But then I read A.J. Jacobs’s marvelously entertaining and informative Drop Dead Healthy, in which he talks at length about the benefits of a treadmill desk—so I decided to go for it.


treadmill desk

Trying the desk for the first time.


Here we are, eight months later, and I can tell you that this remains one of my favorite purchases ever. (I am, in fact, writing this blog post on it!) So if you’ve been on the fence about getting yourself a treadmill desk, like I was, or maybe this is the first you’ve heard of such a thing, allow me to try and persuade you.



The Health Benefits 

First, I think it’s important to point out that the treadmill desk does not act as a replacement for regular exercise. You are typically going to be walking so slowly on it that any aerobic effects are going to stay pretty mild.


Rather, the treadmill desk should be viewed as an antidote to sitting, which the experts are telling us is the biggest health problem facing our society today.


Turns out, sitting for 8+ hours a day is bad for us. Really, really bad.


And we writers, we sit. A LOT.


(Miranda Kenneally recently posted about her own sitting-related health issues on her blog, in case you weren’t aware of how horrible it can become:



By taking even just an hour or two every day and changing your routine from sitting to walking (or even standing if a treadmill isn’t in your budget), we can begin to counteract some of those awful effects.


Am I sounding like an infomercial yet? Oops. *tries to tone down the sales pitch*



Better Focus 

Lots of studies have also found that our brains work better when we get regular exercise, and even better during that exercise. I’ve seen this firsthand in the amount of plot ideas I’ve gotten over the years while I was jogging or dancing or in the middle of a yoga class.


With my treadmill desk, I find that I rarely get those light bulb moments that I get during more strenuous exercise, but I do focus better. In fact, on days when I’m feeling distracted and can’t concentrate on a task, hopping on my treadmill desk is the best way for me to get back to work. I liken it to locking yourself in a room with nothing but a pen and pad of paper. You have nothing better to do—so you might as well get to work! Likewise with the treadmill, once I’m on it my brain seems to recognize that this is work time, and off we go.



Dedicated Time to Do . . . Whatever Needs Doing 

I know plenty of writers who use their treadmill desks for actual writing, and I can and have gotten writing done on mine, too. But I’ve found that for me the treadmill desk offers a perfect solution to separating “writing” from “everything else I’m supposed to do on a daily basis.”


Mostly, I love to use the treadmill for blog posts and answering emails, things that I will put off until the end of time if I allow myself. But now, I hop on my treadmill desk every morning, set the timer on my phone, and get to work. By the end of an hour I’ll have a completed blog post or a significantly reduced inbox, when I know that that same hour would have been full of other distractions if I’d tried to do it at my normal desk.


On top of that, just like being on the treadmill tells my brain “it’s time to work” (a.k.a. answer emails, write blog posts, respond to blogger interviews… whatever the current task is), stepping off the treadmill tells my brain “it’s time to sit down and write.” I’ve found the distinction between the two to be enormously helpful.



You Can Use It As a Reward, Too

Sometimes, when I know I’ve spent too much time sitting lately, I’ll use my treadmill in conjunction with a reward. “Finish this chapter and you can hop on the treadmill desk and read a few chapters of a book.” Or “Finish these copyedits and you can hop on the treadmill desk and watch the newest episode of Sailor Moon Crystal.” My brain thinks it’s getting a prize, while my body is grateful to get up and move.



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Now that you’re ready to run out and buy one for yourself, here are some things to consider . . .



Type of Treadmill: Not all treadmills are created equal. Some, like those you see at the gym, are intended for short durations at faster speeds—you know, like jogging or sprinting. But there are treadmills specifically designed for longer periods at slower speeds. Walking treadmills. This is what you’ll want. You can jog on them, but they’ll generally max out at about 4 miles per hour. (The treadmill salesman likened it to a car—you wouldn’t drive on the freeway in first gear, would you? Then you wouldn’t want to continuously walk at 2-miles-an-hour on a running treadmill, either.)



Ergonomics and Set-Up:  All you need in your set up is a flat surface that goes across your treadmill where you can set your computer, but for maximum health benefits, try to take ergonomics into account. The top of your computer screen should be at eye-level and your elbows should be at a ninety-degree angle when settled on your keyboard. A wrist pad is an excellent investment, too. I splurged and got a super fancy keyboard that splits down the middle so that my wrists can be in as neutral a position as possible—it took some getting used to at first, but now I LOVE this keyboard and use it at my regular desk, too.


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Speed and Balance: Whenever I tell someone about my treadmill desk, the first response is usually: “I couldn’t do that—I would totally fall off!


No. No, you wouldn’t. Trust me on this—it isn’t nearly as difficult to walk and type as it looks! Though it might take some getting used to, especially if you are not in the habit of touch-typing, I have never once felt off-balance or in danger of falling off the treadmill.


Partly I think that people are assuming they would walk fast—like you do at the gym. But I generally keep my speed around 2mph (a casual stroll for most people is about 3mph—so we’re talking very slow here!) Again, it isn’t a replacement for exercise, just an antidote to sitting.


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If you’ve been debating a treadmill desk but weren’t sure, here is my hearty recommendation. I love mine and wish I’d gotten it much sooner.


Thoughts/questions? And if you already have a treadmill desk, let us know how you feel about it in the comments!