Over the years, I’ve been getting increasingly concerned with the amount of time I spend sitting.
I’m an active guy, but over the last 6-7 years or so, most of my work has been done from a desk or on a couch (when we were touring in the RV.)
In the beginning, I would work up to 14 hours or so depending on what I needed to do to get Renegade Health off the ground. Up until recently — I’ll share what changed in just a minute — it was more like 5-6 hours.
Ultimately, your or I don’t even need the data, it just doesn’t seem right to be sitting for so darn long.
Over the years, I’ve been searching for a solution, but hadn’t found one. I had considered a standing desk, but by the time I had wanted to commit to one, we were purchasing an RV to head out on a two and a half year adventure around the United States. Yes, I suppose I could have had a standing desk in the Kale Whale (the name of our RV,) but that would have taken up even more precious space.
So I waited for a solution to come.
And it did.
“Why Had I Never Heard of This?
I consider myself pretty well connected, but when I heard about a treadmill desk — a combination of a standing desk and a treadmill — I was ashamed that I hadn’t known about it.
I was at a special invite-only health industry event with a friend. It was a two day event fulled with discussion about the industry and 4 different speakers.
One of the speakers, I forget his name, was explaining some of the studies that he’d done about human behavior. One of the studies happened to be about how workers used a treadmill desk and what influenced their use.
The study was interesting, but the concept of the treadmill desk was mind-blowing.
I immediately opened up my laptop and searched to find one. To my surprise, they were everywhere. I sent an email off to Lisa, one of our team members, to contact a few of the companies to see if we could try one out.
A Few Weeks Later…
My friend didn’t want to wait for the response from the companies, so he went ahead and bought one outright. When he got it, he called me.
“It’s awesome. A total game-changer,” he said.
I talked to Lisa again and found out a few days later they weren’t willing to give us one for free or trial, so I purchased one (Lifespan Fitness TR1200-DT) directly through them.
I couldn’t wait to get it. I was jealous that my friend had already logged a few days of miles on it before I had a chance to order mine.
The Treadmill Arrives
I didn’t have to wait long, but I wasn’t at the office when it the shipment arrived. My first mistake (one of only a few) was that I apparently didn’t pay for inside delivery.
You don’t use a treadmill outside, so I have no idea why there would be an inside / outside option for shipping. But when the guy delivering saw my brother and Tina in the office, his heart overrode his policies and helped them bring the unusually heavy and awkward boxes into my office. (Treadmill: 115 lbs. Desktop: 88 lbs.)
I was back in the office in a few days, anxious, and recruited my brother to put it together.
The treadmill part requires no assembly, just the desk. The instructions are easy, but you do need two people to put it together. You don’t need any fancy tools either. Everything you need comes with it, with the exception of a level. I didn’t have one, so I downloaded a level app for my iPhone — worked well enough.
During assembly, I quickly realized that I wasn’t prepared for the space it required. It is not overwhelmingly big, I just happen to have a small office. So I managed to put it 2 feet in front of my desk, 10 inches from the wall on the right side, and 3 inches from the wall on the back– I’ll tell you how that saved me from a serious spill in a bit. There’s not much room left in my office for much else now that it’s up and operating.
The entire dimensions of the of the separate parts of the treadmill desk are…
Treadmill: 74″ long x 47″ wide
Desktop: 31″ deep x 46.5″ wide
But assembled, it’s more like 84 inches long and 48 inches wide.
Here’s what it looks like in that space…
After the desk was put together, I adjusted it to my height. This is one of the most difficult things to do and probably the biggest down side of this particular desk.
By no fault of the manufacturer, you have to decide on what the most comfortable height setting is for you. Since I’ve never worked at a standing desk, I had no idea how high I’d want to desktop to be.
So I tested out a height setting that I though was appropriate. In order to adjust the desktop, you also have to have help. It’s not an easy task. The tabletop, since it’s well constructed, is heavy, so one person has to hold it up awkwardly, while the other adjusts, locks and screws the knobs on the legs.
After this contortion act, I stood on the treadmill with my laptop on the desk and realized that it was too low. Contortion Act, Scene II.
Finally, we found the right setting — with the desk right around my belly button — after a few tries and a few bumped heads when the desktop slid down the leg rails.
I don’t know if Lifespan has any other model with hydraulic adjustable legs, but if they do, I would get that one hands down. With this particular model, I’d love for our team members to use it when I’m not in the office, but it’s just a pain to adjust every time someone jumps on it.
But, I don’t want to dwell on a minor design flaw, I want to let you know that I think this is the best thing I’ve bought for my health in the last 10 years.
“Get a Treadmill Desk”
Jim Kwik, a memory trainer and good friend of ours, asked me for my top health tip of 2013. He was compiling a list contributed by some pretty awesome people. (You can see that here. I’m humbled by the company there.)
“Get a treadmill desk,” I said.
“Seriously?” He looked at me not knowing if I was joking or not.
I didn’t know if he was going to publish it, but he did. I was serious. I can’t think of one thing I did in 2012 that was healthier.
As I said earlier, I was concerned that my health would deteriorate with all the sitting over the years.
One of the reasons we moved to Berkeley, California is because it’s an extremely walkable city. We use the car only 2-3 times a month compared to the 2-3 times every day we used it in Connecticut. Just that eliminated hours upon hours of sitting every month.
But the office sitting was still a concern. What I had noticed most is that when I was at my desk — in particular when I was writing — there would be times when I’d pause and immediately feel short of breath. In that moment of consciousness, I’d wonder if I’d even taken a breath in the last 15-30 seconds.
There is science to back this sitting / lack of breathing theory up. We know that when you’re sitting — particularly in not so perfect posture — your lung capacity is decreased. This means your entire body is running on decreased oxygen. Decreased lung capacity and restricted breathing is linked to shorter life. (You can read a compilation of clinical studies here.)
So for me, I wanted to breath better while working. The desk, I was hoping, would be the answer.
My First Reactions to the Treadmill Desk
After the first few days, I knew I had found my sitting solution. I was breathing great after writing and I felt energized — and a little tired.
I tend to jump into things pretty quickly and usually in an “all-hands-on-deck” way. So in the first three days, I had already logged 17.88 miles — all while working. Seeing this progress, made me wonder how many miles I would have walked the previous 6 or so years (the math: at that pace, it would have been approximately 9297.6 miles — excluding weekends.)
The first days did have their downsides though. These was knee pain and back tightness. I definitely started a little too fast. As you know, I’m a runner, but I had taken a few month break to rehab a nagging knee injury — the desk was just the “welcome back” hazing I needed to be reminded my knee wasn’t fully healed.
After the first weekend break, though, I felt much better and was anxious to start out fresh on week number two.
Can You Work on That Thing?
The short answer is, yes, I can. But it’s not for everyone.
I found that I could do just about everything I do for work on a regular basis from the treadmill desk.
I can write, respond to emails, make phone calls, have meetings, and research all while walking between the 1.5 and 2.0 settings. I turned down 1.5 on recorded interviews because I found myself getting a little out of breath because I was trying to make sure my breathing wasn’t picked up by the headset.
By the way, 1.5 is like a slow walk in the park. 2.0 is the equivalent of a walk with purpose — a walk where you have somewhere to go.
The only thing that I couldn’t do were projects that required more than one focal point on the workspace. So for instance, if I needed my computer to the left and then was taking notes on my right, it became a little hairy. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do it, I just wasn’t able to keep a walking rhythm. I also wouldn’t recommend this for an architect or someone who needs to draw straight lines — just not going to happen.
A few others in the office gave it a try and Annmarie, in particular, said that she couldn’t handle typing and walking at the same time — so for her, this machine would be useless. My brother said the same thing.
I’d definitely try one out before buying, especially if you feel like you’re not the most coordinated of the bunch (or can’t pat your belly and rub your head at the same time.)
Moving Forward (Well, Kind Of…)
After the first few days, I deepened my love for my Lifespan. I walked everyday until the 19th of September, when we traveled back East to for a friend’s wedding.
While on our trip, I felt like a sugar addict in withdrawal — only in a good way. I wanted my treadmill desk. I can’t think of a healthier addiction, besides maybe lettuce or smiling.
My Total Stats for the First Few Months
For this experiment, I wanted to be able to share statistics with you so that you could see exactly how much I used the desk, how many calories I burned and how much time I spent walking.
I tracked all this from August 15th, 2012 until my birthday on December 7th, 2012.
In that 114 days, I tracked:
Hours: 185 Hours and 7 Minutes
Calories Burned: 39,462
I also tracked steps, but the display only has four numbers, so when you get over 9999 and you’ve walked a significant amount of hours, you don’t know if you’ve taken 20,000 or 30,000 steps. I’ve eliminated that number from my data set because of this reason.
To crunch the numbers further:
Approximate average hours per day: 2.28 hours
Approximate average calories per day: 487
Approximate average miles per day: 4.26
(All these do not include weekends, but include traveling time away from the office)
In this time, I theoretically could have walked to Los Angeles (Santa Clarita to be exact) and lost about 11.27 pounds.
Not to bad, considering I was in my postage stamp sized office writing blog posts for you to read.
Here is my complete spreadsheet if you really want to look it over. (Snore alert.)
Too Much Walking?
In the months that followed, as I said, I did have some knee issues. I also had some serious chaffing at one point. I made sure I tossed those boxer briefs immediately and switched to shorts for a while.
I also had some Achilles pain for a while. I’d only feel it when I bent down to pick something up off the floor. I promised myself that I’d get it checked out if it lasted more than 2 weeks, but it didn’t so I’ll just say that was a usage adjustment.
Overall, I was surprised at how little pain I did feel. I had talked about the dangers of treadmills — or at least running on them regularly — for years, but this machine was different. I was only walking and I was doing it to avoid sitting — a serious danger.
I will admit, that I do think I started out too strong on it. These days, I walk much less than I did to start, about 5-7 miles a week, and I feel like I have a nice mix of walking and sitting. I spend half the day at my treadmill desk and the other half a combination of sitting at my desk and walking around the office meeting with team members.
I don’t really know how much walking someone should do during the day. I’m sure some researchers have some recommendations, but I feel like this mix in the office and my total walking output outside of work is just about right these days.
My Thoughts After My Initial Experiment?
I love this thing and continue to use it. It’s now part of my routine. I most likely won’t use is as much as I did in the beginning, but I don’t see going back to a regular desk full time ever again. I’ve recommended it to just about everyone I know. Some have even gone out and purchased one of their own.
In addition, I’ve started to stand on the treadmill and use the desk while the belt is not moving. This, I find, is a nice change of pace when I do need to do more complicated planning that requires multiple work areas on the desk itself.
Concerns, Problems, Issues…
I guess there are a few, but they’re extremely minor compared to the health benefits and the positive aspects of having a treadmill desk.
Besides the initial aches and pains, chaffing and desk adjusting, there are some of the other small challenges you may face with yours (if you get one.)
You must pay attention the first few times you pick up the phone. One of the first days, I got a call on my cell phone, picked it up, and realized that I had stopped walking. I was standing still, but moving rather fast away from my desk. My mind was terribly confused and before I had a chance to sort it all out, I hit the wall behind me with a decent amount of force and a loud bump. I was lucky that I had the desk so close to wall, otherwise I could have scraped myself up pretty good. My friend on the other line couldn’t stop laughing when I told him what the thump was. Be careful.
Sometimes I pull out the emergency key by accident. I understand why it’s there, but when you pull out the key by accident, it’s almost more dangerous than — in my case — hitting the wall. Because you’re not just walking — you’re walking and working — so it takes a second or so for you to register that you hand has triggered the emergency stop and you should stop walking. When this does happen, you, not so gently, walk right into the desk in front of you. It’s jarring and I’ve tweaked my back doing so. I can’t think of any other way to avoid this from happening, since I can’t recommend not using the emergency key, but it’s a a reality you face when you multitask your work and your exercise.
It’s not awesome to be sweaty in the office. I started to resolve this by only wearing shorts. This helped with the heat as well as the chaffing, but then it got really hot in Berkeley in the beginning of October. The shorts weren’t enough. Annmarie came into my office one day and left pretty quickly. She came back with her Neroli Toning Mist.
“Why don’t you spray this a few times every 10 minutes,” she said.
“I smell, huh?”
“Yep. You might want to spray it in your armpits too.”
I noted the suggestion and now keep a bottle on my desk and am sure to spray regularly — and particularly if someone is walking in to talk to me.
Finally, maintenance is kind of a pain. You have to get silicone spray to lube the belt somewhat regularly. Lifespan recommends every 40 hours or every three months — whatever comes first. I have the silicone spray next to me on my sit down desk, but haven’t done the maintenance yet.
I also remember reading that you also may have to take the cover off of the engine and make sure there isn’t dust and debris build up from time to time as well. I’m pretty sure that will be a once a year task for me — regardless of what the recommendation is.
Again, I’d say this is the best health purchase I’ve made in years.
I’d pretty much recommend it to anyone on the planet who sits at a desk for long stretches of time and has no extensive knee, ankle, hip or other leg injury. I’d also caution those with serious heart issues as well.
But other than that, this tool will be in my health toolkit for many years to come.
I know if you don’t work for yourself like I do, you might have a hard time convincing your boss to make room for one in the office, but I think in the next few years, this may be a much more accepted way to work.
I’m hoping to be able to purchase a few more for our team members in the next few years as well, because it would be unfair for just me not to share the health benefits while in the office.
What’s holding me back is the space and the price. They do take up space and I wouldn’t recommend eliminating your sit down desk completely. I was glad I didn’t. There were times when I had walked 6 miles and was thrilled to be able to sit down for an hour before I walked home from the office.
The price is also a little high, but for multiple years of use and the Lifespan’s solid construction, I have a feeling what I spent was well justified.
Get one if you can. “A total gamechanger” in our modern sedentary times.
Your Question of The Day: Have you ever seen a treadmill desk? Have any questions about it that you want me to answer about using one? (I’ll do so in my next blog post!)