Working at a treadmill desk

One of the benefits of being a freelancer and working from home is having more control over how I use my time. This presents numerous opportunities for optimising my work–life balance, and recently I started considering practical solutions to the problem of fitting regular exercise into my working day.

I wondered whether a treadmill desk could work for me: I loved the idea of getting exercise while working and not using my free time running or going to the gym (activities I don’t find particularly enjoyable), and was also keen to get away from a sedentary lifestyle slumped over a computer. I now finish each working day having walked around four miles, and it’s a great feeling to relax in the evening guilt-free knowing that I’ve already had a workout!

The first thing to consider is which type of treadmill is right for you: resistance (magnetic) or electronic. I decided that a resistance running machine would be the best option for me, as they are cheaper (my one cost around £90) and more robust (there is no motor so there is less to go wrong). It is also relatively small, and I can fold it away once work is over.

Resistance treadmills are not the typical choice. Stopping/starting and the speed you are walking is driven by you rather than the machine, and you need to steady yourself with at least one hand in order to maintain momentum, but I have found that it is ideal for copy-editing as so much time is spent reading.

While in motion I can do small interventions (a macro shortcut for example) and use a mouse, but for anything that requires two hands or more sustained attention (including drinking a cup of tea) I stop. Much like driving a car or riding a bike, after a while your brain is so used to the motion that you balance and walk quite naturally. A resistance treadmill desk also turns easily into a standing desk, although I find that (perhaps surprisingly) it’s actually more comfortable to walk than to stand for long periods.

If you do a lot of typing then an electronic treadmill might be more suitable. These are more expensive and have motors that eventually burn out, and you need to turn the machine off manually every time you want to stop walking. They are also a lot heavier and bulkier than resistance treadmills.

In setting up my workspace I simply pushed the treadmill up to my desk and raised the laptop, monitor, and mouse using whatever I had to hand. Using a high-resolution monitor and zooming in further than normal I can read just as well as before. If you like DIY then customising your desk more substantially shouldn’t be a problem, and there are plenty of online resources. You can also buy ready-made desks if money is no object.

As well as the obvious health benefits from regular cardiovascular exercise, once I got used to walking all day my posture and flexibility improved and shoulder and back pains abated. However, depending on how enthusiastic you are it can be quite tiring, and it’s advisable to wear loose-fitting clothes and running shoes – this is not the kind of thing you want to do in your slippers!

There is also evidence that treadmill desks help you to concentrate. I have certainly found this to be the case, and as the treadmill is fairly loud it works particularly well with another method I use to improve my productivity – listening to white noise (free noise generators are available online). The impact of low-level background noise is not always obvious, but it constantly (subconsciously) distracts your brain from the job in hand, and by blocking it out my concentration levels are much higher.

In summary, I won’t be going back to a sitting desk. Making this change has proved an effective antidote to the physical stagnation that freelancers working from home can feel – quite frankly it would look out of place in an office, so we are in the perfect position to give it a go!

11663890_10153381080045450_802605348_oDan Harding is a freelance copy-editor, proofreader and digital production specialist, and an Advanced Professional Member of SfEP. He works with authors, publishers, NGOs and professional societies on subjects across the humanities and social/political sciences – please visit the Spartan Eloquence website for more information.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

5 thoughts on “Working at a treadmill desk

  1. Margaret Hunter

    I’ve had my stand/sit workstation (Varidesk) for just over a week now, and I wouldn’t go back to sitting either. I thought I might find it difficult to stand for long periods, but instead it’s now my preferred option. I don’t have the treadmill (well done!) but I’ve actually found myself naturally doing some exercises while standing (and still working), eg shoulder shrugs, arm presses, ankle rises. And my lower back issues are much better!

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  2. Becky Ashwell

    I’ve been working at a standing desk for over a year now and think it’s absolutely fabulous. (Although I do have to stand on a stool as the height of the desk is suitable for my husband but not for me…)

    If I go into an office to work with a client I really feel the disadvantages of sitting down all day.

    I’m not sure I could quite manage with walking on a treadmill and working at the same time though; I drink too much coffee to do that!

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  3. Sally Asnicar

    I take my hat off to all of you who can stand and/or walk whilst working. I cannot even ‘read’ a trashy magazine at the gym whilst I’m on a treadmill or a bike; the motion and trying to read makes me feel quite queasy. I also suffer motion sickness – can’t read in a car AT ALL. So for now, sedentary I must be. Although I do go and shake my booty at Zumba once a week!

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  4. Sue Archer

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with this, Dan. I’ve been thinking of getting a standing desk, and it’s encouraging to hear that a treadmill version has worked well for you.

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  5. Lisa Learner

    I recently became interested in standing/walking more at work and stumbled across this great article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Dan! I noticed that you referenced work while walking…From what I’ve found through my research they are owned by one of the manufacturers so their reviews are super biased. Your readers would be better off checking out an unbiased source like StartStanding.org.

    Reply

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