Last week I set up a treadmill desk. I've gained more pounds than I'd like to admit over the last couple of years, trying to eat my way out of unhappiness, combined with a move that placed me far away from the healthier eating-out food options I used to enjoy (and far closer to the sinister ones).
I had years ago heard about people using treadmill desks and had always meant to give it a try. As I am at my computer 14 hours a day or so the ability to turn some of that time into a workout was very appealing. For my recent birthday I bought myself a LifeSpan TR 1200i Folding Treadmill with the goal of using it in a treadmill desk setup. A few companies now make treadmills specifically for use with a desk, some even include the desk, and LifeSpan does in fact make a treadmill for these purposes, the LifeSpan TR1200-DT3 Standing Desk Treadmill (no desk included). As I compared the features of LifeSpan's desk-flavored treadmill with their regular treadmill I became convinced that I'd be far better off converting their traditional treadmill to desk use. The non-desk version costs the exact same amount ($999) but includes a number of really powerful features: a) variable incline 0 - 15 degrees), b) pulse rate monitor (in handrails or via chest strap), c) fancier programs (since it uses incline and pulse monitor), and d) it includes running speeds (0.5 - 10 mph, instead of 0.4 - 4 mph). The only feature you seem to lose is some sort of bluetooth ability, which I didn't really investigate. Otherwise they appear identical in terms of specs.
All I had to do to convert the non-desk version to one I could use with my desk was remove the vertical portion of the treadmill, which involved removing a few bolts and pulling the console's cable out so I could re-run the cable to the console which I had now mounted on my desk with double sided foam tape. Easy-peasy. And I bought the chest strap ($40) so I could get constant heart rate monitoring without needing to hold onto hand rails; originally I was going to remount the hand rails to my desk, but the chest strap is a far more elegant solution.
For the desk I use my much loved Ikea Jerker, a design Ikea never should have retired (anyone who wants one and lives near a major metropolitan area can find one on Craigslist for $75 - 100). I set up a second Ikea Jerker desk to the left of my treadmill desk with a monitor, keyboard, and mouse so when I want to sit in a normal chair I can just work there (using RDP). The idea was to virtually force myself to use the treadmill desk as I would do almost anything to avoid using this tiny single monitor and less familiar keyboard when I could be using my three monitor setup with my normal keyboard/mouse, but to permit me a fallback when I needed it. The other side of that is that I actually would rather walk than stand, I find standing less comfortable, so as long as I'm standing, I'm highly likely to walk.
After the first few days I discovered that my fall back desk with tiny monitor really wasn't such a brilliant idea. I need to be on my computer 14 or so hours every day and it's just never going to be realistic for me to walk all 14 hours. And since I was just starting back into an exercise routine and needed time for my body to adjust I'm doing about 2 - 3 hours walking a day, and using that tiny little monitor and unfamiliar keyboard just wasn't cutting it, my productivity plummeted. I would either work slowly or completely avoid doing things on the computer, suddenly wanting to organize, clean things, etc. I needed another solution... and this is when I made my treadmill chair!
Years ago I bought a pair of those fantastic aluminum stools that Crate and Barrel was kind enough to knock off. I bought it for my MAME arcade machine, which is currently in storage. It was the perfect height to place on top of the treadmill so that I could use my regular setup without standing. The problem was, I didn't want to damage the treadmill belt, and it seemed inevitable that distributing my weight down to those four thin aluminum legs was a recipe for disaster. I'm sure the belt would have been fine for a while, but it certainly would have accelerated its deterioration. But what material would be safe to use against a treadmill belt, to allow me to distribute the weight better? Wood? Metal? Cardboard? Shoes! If there's anything that a treadmill was meant to have on it, it's shoes! So I ran down to Walmart and bought two pairs of fake converse shoes for $12 a pair and made wooden inserts for the shoes onto which I attached the stool legs (via hot glue gun). And it works perfectly!
Now I can use my treadmill for walking and whenever I need take a break on my treadmill chair.
I've been using the setup for about a week now and I must say I am encouraged. The first couple of days I walked about 2 hours, then I took a day off because my legs were hurting, and the next couple of days I've been doing about 2.5 - 3 hours a day. One issue has been trying to figure out what the right speed is. For the first few days I was at 1.5 mph, then I bumped it up to about 2.0 to 2.5 mph for the last few days, and am finding the speed I can do relates quite a bit to the work I need to do. Trying to operate a mouse with precision in a graphic design package at 2.5 mph isn't something I can yet do. This is where the incline is particularly nice, and why I'm very happy I got a treadmill with incline. If I need to dial down the speed I can always increase the incline to make sure I'm still getting a good workout. Right now to write this I'm doing 1.8 mph and a 5 degree incline, instead of 2.8 mph and a 0 degree incline. The CDC says you need to be going at least 3 mph for a healthy fast walking exercise, but that is still a little beyond my abilities to do while using my computer.
Only time will tell if this is a lasting solution to my problem of being too sedentary.