Why I’m writing this on a treadmill

Reading time: About 3 minutes

You’ve certainly heard of standing desks, but have you ever heard of walking ones? Here are some treadmill desk benefits…

I am an eccentric. Here are some of my credentials:

  • I have a computer file with all my recipes and I make a menu plan once a week (before the pandemic, I did it once a month).
  • I like opera and jazz and rock and Broadway show tunes more or less equally.
  • I have a treadmill desk that allows me to walk while I write and coach clients.

This last eccentricity is about four years old. I generally sit while I’m coaching people by Zoom, but if you were a client and if our videos are turned off, you may have heard the motor’s soothing electric thrum in the background, or perhaps the gentle clump clump clump of my feet striking the platform.

My husband rolls his eyes at me, and briefly worries about having married such an out-and-out geek. But I’m confident I’ve made the right decision to walk while I write.

I first heard about treadmill desks in 2010 while attending a conference in San Francisco. I didn’t believe such a device existed but one of my colleagues at the event challenged me to Google it. I was shocked to find thousands of entries for the phrase ‘treadmill desk’ — including photos.  (I just Googled it again and landed more than 29 million hits this time.)

I’ve always enjoyed walking — even as a 12-year-old I’d walk to the beach by myself and go for a 30-minute stroll — and pre-pandemic, I’d walk to the bank, the library and the grocery store. I wear a pedometer, typically registering more than 10,000 steps per day, even before the treadmill.

But the idea of treadmill desks appealed to me because I have back problems, exacerbated by sitting. Also, I know my writing improves when I walk first. Eventually, I found a neighbour who was throwing out a treadmill and willing to give it to me at no charge. I had it hauled up to my office and used it intermittently for a number of years. The trouble was, it had no flat surface on which to balance a computer. Also it was very loud and very large. I used it for walking when I didn’t feel like going out in the rain. But I couldn’t use it while writing.

A few years ago, I bought myself a standing desk as a way of helping my back. Sadly, I found standing no easier than sitting. I noticed I tended to hike myself up on one hip, which I knew was bad, but couldn’t seem to correct. As a result, I mostly kept my standing desk in the sitting position.

Then one day, in an exercise equipment shop, I spotted an under-the-desk treadmill with no top or sides, just the treadmill component for the feet. (See photo at the top of this post.) I fell in love with it. Whisper quiet, it would not only fit under my standing desk, it also had a motor with the strength to withstand eight hours of walking per day. As soon as I received my tax refund, I took the money and bought my treadmill. My brand — a LifeSpan  — cost about $1,400 CDN. (I receive no royalties or kickbacks. I mention these specifics because many people want to know.)

Later, I discovered that writer Susan Orlean has exactly the same desk as me (you can read about it in her story in the New Yorker) which gave me a little celebrity thrill.

I was and remain ecstatic with this addition to my office. People often ask me if I can actually walk and type at the same time. I can. I generally walk 2 mph (a little slower if I’m coaching someone, because I don’t want to sound out-of-breath.) It’s easy to type at this speed and I can even highlight text and move it around or add hotlinks, if I concentrate.

I’ve identified only one small problem: trying to write something by hand. My appalling handwriting already makes me look like an arthritic 90-year-old — and it becomes even worse when I’m on the treadmill. But to me, that’s a small price to pay.

Now, I always reach my 10,000-step goal well before 11 am, and even better, my exercise is scattered throughout the day not concentrated in one or two large clumps. By the end of the day I’ve usually walked more than 20,000 steps, which is the equivalent of seven miles (11 km). Best of all I’ve been able to accomplish this while working and while protecting my hair-trigger back.

During the pandemic, my number of steps has sometimes hit 30,000 daily, close to 12 miles (19 km). I think I’m using the extra walking as a way to vent my frustration! I still also walk outside every day, as well, because there’s nothing better than walking in nature.

Bottom line? I can tell you my walking habit enhances my creativity and helps me write more easily and more fluently.

Sometimes a little eccentricity is a good thing.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on June 7/16.

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Have you ever thought of getting a treadmill desk? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to Mona Tellier, the winner of this month’s book prize, for An Aug. 12/20 comment on my blog. (Please send me your email address, Mona!) Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Sept. 30/20 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!