Yes, Even a Klutz Like Me Can Walk and Type at the Same Time

Is it possible to get exercise while working at a desk? I was walking when I wrote this article.

You’ve probably heard all of the talk about treadmill desks and dismissed it. I did.

Who, after all, would choose to walk while typing anything more important than a grocery list? To do so would seemingly invite physical injury and reputational damage – just imagine the possible typos, oversights and errors in your written-while-walking text.

But a detailed graphic in The Washington Post called “The Health Hazards of Sitting” may be enough to convince some that treadmill desks aren’t best left to the uber fit. (Anyway, its advice to intersperse yoga poses, walking and other activities into your workday is a, pardon the pun, step in the right direction.) For instance, it says:

Heart disease

Muscles burn less fat and blood flows more sluggishly during a long sit, allowing fatty acids to more easily clog the heart. Prolonged sitting has been linked to high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol, and people with the most sedentary time are more than twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease than those with the least.

Overproductive pancreas

The pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that carries glucose to cells for energy. But cells in idle muscles don’t respond as readily to insulin, so the pancreas produces more and more, which can lead to diabetes and other diseases. A 2011 study found a decline in insulin response after just one day of prolonged sitting.

An essay in The New Yorker by author Susan Orlean had an even more frightening description: For instance, with prolonged sitting, your metabolism slows nearly to that of someone who is dead.

Orlean’s essay made her something of an icon to the treadmill desk crowd. Not only did Orlean write the essay while walking on a treadmill desk, but she told of the ease with which she adjusted to it.

Reading that essay prompted me to look into buying a walking workstation. But I was hesitant. For one thing, I’m a falling-down-sober klutz. For another, I can be cheap. One glance at some of the prices for the treadmill desks, $1,500 and higher in some cases, dampened my enthusiasm. Like so many people, I’ve invested in steppers, stationary bikes and all types of other exercise equipment, only to soon find them gathering dust or damp towels.

The tipping point for me was meeting Orlean at a Yale University writing program soon after the essay was published. As interested as we students were in her writing process, many of us were equally fascinated by her work environment.

She was productive. She was healthy but not Jillian Michaels fit. And the more I read about the slow, 1 or 2 mph workstation pace, the more doable it seemed.

OK. I was mentally ready. But I wasn’t going to to plunk down $1,500 for a fitness experiment. Thanks to a friend who donated an unused treadmill to my cause and my husband’s handyman skills, I have a modified walking workstation. And, yes, I’m writing this piece while walking on it. And no, I haven’t come close to falling, yet.

There aren’t any scientific studies readily available to show that treadmill desks or standing while working is health boosting, reports Fast Company. But anecdotal evidence, by healthy but not super fit people, certainly tips the scale toward believing.

Now 6 pounds lighter and considerably less “achy” than when I started using the treadmill desk about three months ago, I see Fast Company reports that Orlean no longer ever sits down when she’s writing. And Joanna Coles, the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, has now gotten on track (sorry) with the craze, though she seems to do more reading than writing while at her treadmill desk.

I find these new reports so interesting that I may soon be ready to invest in a made-for-walking-and-working treadmill.

Why? Well, as Coles tells Fast Company, “I’m aware it’s all sort of preposterous, but it works.”

Have you tried a treadmill desk? Share your experience below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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  • Mariana Eneva

    I have been using this idea since mid-2005 when I read about Levine’s NEAT lab (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) at the Mayo Clinic. I first created my own contraption with a tall Ikea table straddling my treadmill. It was not trivial – I wanted to be able to see the distance I have walked, so I assembled the treadmill only partially and put its console on top of the table. It took me only 10 min to learn to walk slowly and work on my laptop, so I never understood concerns about this. It is a question of perceived necessity. Is it easier to drive a car ????!! No, but most people here do it. Next, I worked on a prototype of a transparent table, so that the console can be seen through the table top. I even had a video made, in December 2008, and the table was called DeskTrek. The intention was to find ways to make it so that it is sold at around $200. See the video here: (I assume that the TrekDesk business came by chance with a similar name – they started later, I think in 2009). My video talked about working and “exercising” at the same time. I never liked this as I viewed slow walking a replacement for sitting, but the video makers insisted to use the word “exercise.” At that time there had not been that much information about the perils of sitting and perhaps people indeed would not have been receptive to such language. In any case, I did not pursue the matter further, and now I still have 8 prototypes, in addition to the one I have for my personal use. I did not have experience in such type of business, and I did not find the right people to really help me beyond making the prototypes. Many friends thought it was a great idea, but some laughed and others said they could never walk and type at the same time! Yet others commented, that unlike me they could not have something like this at work (I work at home and have control on my working environment). The topic has since exploded in other circles…. All in all, I might have been one of the earliest adopters, but I remained limited to my own use only.

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