How and why I upgraded to a treadmill desk, creating a much healthier work/life balance, losing weight, all the while not adding any time to my day for exercise. This post was originally on Avaya’s site as well as B2C.
After years of back problems resulting in physical therapy, I knew I needed to make a change. The biggest problem for me was the 11 hours a day I spend at my desk, hunched over my keyboard. While I know that good posture could help out a lot, the truth is that as I get in to “the zone”, I stop paying attention to posture and the next thing I know, my body is aching.
The plight of strain caused by sitting at a desk is unfortunately not unique to me. Harvard Business Review did a great article on how Sitting Is the Smoking of Our Generation. I don’t think the title is an embellishment; like smoking, sitting at your desk is a bad health choice people willingly make every day. CBS News ran a story on how your desk job is making you fat.
After some thought, I decided to haul our unused and dusty treadmill out of the basement up to my second floor (did I mention my back isn’t doing great?) home office. With my wife’s woodworking skills we built some functional (not attractive) tables of the appropriate height out of 4x4s for the posts and plywood for the tabletop.
We then placed the existing tables on top of these new tables, effectively raising my desktop to be about 5 feet off the ground. This allowed me to place my phone (an Avaya Desktop Video Device on the left), three monitors, and my MacBook Pro at a healthy viewing height, with proper spacing and positioning (verified by OSHA’s website). To make the keyboard and mouse accessible, we built a wood shelf from a 2×8 board long enough to not only go across the handlebars, but also extend further to give me more counter space. This was the trickiest part as my handlebars are slanted, requiring some more creative building to get a shelf mostly level. Below is what that setup looks like.
The results have been great. In the first five months, I averaged six miles a day, with my all-time best being 11 miles in a single day. I typically walk at a pace of 2.0 mph, which is about as fast as I can comfortably go while still being able to type, work, and if on the phone, talk. When on a conference call that I need to speak on, I will reduce the speed to 1.5mph as my treadmill wasn’t really meant for this use and thus is a little loud in the background. I’m also doing more and more video conferencing which adds an interesting wrinkle as I look a little odd to others on the conference. Depending on the situation, I may pause the treadmill until the video call is over.
After years of back problems resulting in physical therapy, I knew I needed to make a change. The biggest problem for me was the 11 hours a day I spend at my desk, hunched over my keyboard. After discussion with my handy wife, a treadmill desk seemed to be the best way forward. And I’m not alone, HBR did a great article on it: Sitting Is the Smoking of Our Generation.
I’ll explain in a bit how we built it, but once in place, I averaged ~6 miles per day, with my best one-day distance being around 11 miles. When on a video conferencing call (which is becoming more and more common), I can’t use the treadmill at all, so I just stand. When on an audio call, I typically walk at about 1.5 miles per hour. Any faster and the noise of the treadmill becomes noticeable to the others on the call. When not on any call, I can walk between 2.0 and 2.5 mph while still being able to type and work.
Not only had this helped me lose 10lbs in the four months, but also my back issues have all but gone away. The best thing about it is that I got all this exercising in without adding any more things to my schedule. 500 miles felt like a big accomplishment and I look forward to seeing how far I can go in 2013. So, if you are at all interested on how mine is setup, keep reading. As my primary care physician said: “Sitting is the new smoking.”
There are many great solutions out there if you are starting from scratch, but we had a treadmill in the basement collecting dust for years and I had recently purchased two new tables. The other oddity, if you will, about my office setup is that I have a lot of screens. I’ve got a Dell 960 with an Nvidia NVS video card, allowing me 4 DVI connections. I use three monitors (the 4th connection is to my Plasma TV), a tablet-style phone from Avaya (The Flare on ADVD), and a MacBookPro. So for me, I was going to need to retain a great deal of desk space.
We brought the treadmill up from the basement and my wife (who is wicked talented with any such project) went to Home Depot to buy a 2×8 board long enough to not only go across the handlebars of the treadmill but also extend beyond it to give me a good deal of space for my wireless keyboard, mouse, and other things. The handlebars on our treadmill, however, tilt down, so she used some brackets and more wood to raise one end up striving for a level shelf. We consulted OSHA diagrams, based on my height, on how high the keyboard should be. The result, not attached, looks like this.
We then used some 4×4 posts and plywood to essentially build cheap tables to go underneath our existing tables and raise them 33”, which was the height we needed in order to get the monitors at the proper viewing height for me (again, via OSHA). Below is the finished project.
Updated based on additional questions I’ve received:
I haven’t gotten motion sick at all reading while walking and I haven’t experience any noticeable increase in eye strain. I used the OSHA guidelines to be sure my eyes were at the right angle and distance to my monitors (although OSHA doesn’t have guidelines for multiple screens, so I just measured to the middle monitor.)