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Walking while working: my experience with a treadmill desk

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How to stay in shape and walk while working? With a treadmill desk, of course! In this article, I explain how I managed to set up a treadmill desk in a tiny space with a minimum budget and maximum positive effect on my health.

Summary

my "walking desk"

Here is the ” treadmill desk ” (also called a ” walking desk “) that I made for myself so I can walk and work. The solution consists of a retractable shelf attached to a closet door and a treadmill that I slide underneath when I need it.


Introduction

With the Covid pandemonium, our apartments and houses have been transformed into multifunctional workplaces. However, the problem remains that confinement makes us more sedentary than ever and poses risks to our health. I wanted to do something and test a potential solution: working while walkingScientific research shows that “treadmill desks” or “walking desks” are an excellent way to increase the activity rate. The results were very satisfactory, not to say beyond my expectations. After 2 months of daily use, it was time to make a first assessment.

Assessment after 2 months of using a treadmill desk (walking workstation)

  • x2: the number of daily steps
  • -10%: average heart rate
  • 3 hours of daily physical activity
  • my small joint pains have disappeared after 3 weeks of everyday use
  • stabilized weight
graphs showing the effects of the treadmille desk

My physical activity curves for the year 2020. From November 2020, we can see a significant increase (total daily distance, calories burned), as well as a slight decrease (dark blue curve) in the average heart rate.

The dangers of sedentarisation

The European sits for an average of 7 hours, 26 minutes a day (source). In 2008 in France, only 43% of adults had a sufficient activity level (source). In the United States, only 5% of adults do more than 30 minutes of daily physical activity (source).

One is sedentary, exceeding 7 hours spent in a sitting position daily.

This sedentary lifestyle has multiple consequences on our health. Of course, the lack of physical activity leads to weight gain, which in turn leads to obesity (see this visualization). In the United States, only 1/3 of children do regular physical activity.

We must realize that since the time of the hunter-gatherers, our body has not evolved. Why should it be adapted to the sitting position when millions of years of evolution have made it a machine to move around? We need to move!

 


The benefits of walking

Walking has many benefits:

  • reduced risk of heart disease
  • lower blood pressure
  • the lowering of cholesterol levels
  • prevention of osteoporosis by increasing bone density
  • relief of back pain (the disease of the century!)

Also, walking helps to oxygenate the brain by stimulating blood circulation. So, we think better and faster when we walk!

In his remarkable book “Where good ideas come from“, Steven Johnson explicitly advises walking, to be creative.

Go for a walk; cultivate hunches; write everything down, but keep your folders messy; embrace serendipity; make generative mistakes; take on multiple hobbies; frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks; follow the links; let others build on your ideas; borrow, recycle, re-invent.

 

Since walking has so many benefits, why not kill two birds with one stone? Walking while working seems ideal. Here’s how I managed to create a treadmill desk in a minimal space.


A do-it-yourself solution within everyone’s reach

The solution that I have designed has already been partly described in this article. I explained how I had created a standing workstation in a closet for about twenty euros (see photo opposite).

As you can see, the solution consisted of a simple board held by a couple of hinges and an old monitor attached to the door.


All I needed to move from a standing workstation to a treadmill desk was a treadmill. I hesitated for a long time between a treadmill with or without a motor before opting for the model below (Flow Fitness Runner DTM100i Walking Pad). The advantage is that it can be folded and stored under a piece of furniture.  This is precisely what I do when I keep it under a chair.


Every morning I start with 60 minutes of walking and working, which allows me to stay alert and start the day on an energetic note.


What kind of work can be done while walking on a treadmill?

It is essential to be aware that not all types of computer work can be combined with walking on a treadmill. Even if the walking speed is minimal, your body moves, and your arms’ movement is more difficult to control. This makes graphic work (image retouching, video post-production) impossible. On the other hand, classic office work and surfing on the internet are entirely possible. I also use the walking time to watch training videos or to relax while watching documentaries.


What type of treadmill to walk on while working?

To make my choice (which I do not regret) I had to answer 2 questions:

  • treadmill or running mat
  • motorized or not

In the end, I opted for a motorized treadmill because working while walking requires that you don’t think about the action of your legs. So, you need a motor so that your legs are engaged and you can concentrate solely on the work.

With a treadmill without a motor, you only move forward if you think about doing just that, and of course, it won’t work because your brain can solely focus on one task.

Walking while working: Treadmill or running mat?

The difference between a treadmill and a running mat is:

  • the maximum speed (6km/h for treadmills)
  • the possibility of tilting the running mat (no tilting possible for a treadmill)

If you want to walk while you work, a treadmill is what you need. Indeed, beyond a certain speed (5.5km/h), it becomes impossible to work because of your body’s movements.

What is the ideal speed for walking while working?

I see a lot of videos of people walking at snail’s pace. As far as I’m concerned, after testing for several days, my ideal speed is 4.5km/hour. At this speed my body doesn’t move too much and I don’t have any particular difficulty writing on the keyboard or manipulating my mouse.

my standing desk

I added vertical fabric storage in the closet to have everything on hand when I work while walking. This way, the surface on which the keyboard and mouse rest (wireless, of course) always remains clean.


Practical advice for using a treadmill desk

Here is some practical advice based on my experience of a few months with my treadmill desk and almost 1 year with my standing workstation.

The position of your arms is important

Ideally, your elbows should be at a 90° angle to your keyboard. In practice, if you want to use a fixed tray for your standing workstation AND with your treadmill desk, it will not be possible to keep this angle constant. I have adjusted my tabletop height so that the angle is 90° when I work without a treadmill. The treadmill is about 5 cm high. When I work while walking, the angle is a little more than 90°, but this is still acceptable.

Noise

Motorized treadmills make noise. If you are working with others in the room, consider this. For important phone calls, don’t hesitate to turn off the treadmill to improve the conversation’s quality.

Webcam

Nowadays we do a lot of videoconferences all day long. Most of the participants are passive. Why not take advantage of this time to walk? Just install a webcam above your monitor. Most monitors have USB connectors, which makes it entirely possible.

Have everything at hand

When you start your session on your treadmill desk, there is one thing you’ll want to avoid at all costs: dismounting to go and get something you’re missing. So, have everything at hand!  As far as I’m concerned, I bought a few euros of vertical storage canvas that hangs next to my standing workstation. So, I have everything at hand.

 

Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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1 Comment

  1. Walking on my treadmill while I work is really the only way I can meet my step goals for the day. I work full time and have two young kids so don’t have a lot of time outside my day for fitness. That said, I’m not sure whether walking VERY slowly for hours a day provides the same health benefits as 30 or 40 minutes of more intense cardio. Better than nothing, though, and I’ve definitely lost weight since I started doing this. I use this gadget and it makes walking a lot more fun and time go a lot faster: https://www.amazon.com/SmartFitness-Treadmill-Attachment-Computer-Pending/dp/B07WJWYWZ3/

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