Answers to Your Questions on the Pros and Cons of Using a Stand-Up Treadmill Desk

It’s been four months since I wrote my first post on my treadmill desk set-up and so I now feel I have more insights to share, especially as I’ve gone from feeling ever so slightly dizzy after every session on the machine to being able to dance to rumba and salsa music (no, sorry, no videos available. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it is actually possible to groove on a 33-cm moving band).

Back in January and February I was working on a large editing job so I didn’t use the treadmill very often when I first got it (I’ll explain below). Since then, however, I’ve not only increased the amount of time I walk (my target is 2–3 hours per day, although I don’t often manage this), but also upped the speed to 3 km (1.9 miles) from the 2.5 km (1.6 miles) per hour I first felt comfortable at. I reckon this is due to four main factors: using Dragon Naturally Speaking (DNS) to translate, which obviously drastically reduces typing; treadmilling becoming almost second nature (it really hasn’t taken that long to get used to); determination to make a few lifestyle changes to become healthier and lose weight; acting on NHS (UK Health Service) recommendations to aim for 10,000 steps per day (around 5 miles/8 km).

  1. Can you really type and walk at the same time?

Yes, it is possible. The slower you walk, the easier it is to type. Given that I now set the pace at 3 km (1.9 miles) per hour, the motion often makes my hands hover slightly backwards and forwards making it quite hard to hit the correct keys (and I’m sure it’d be even harder with a laptop). It’s also more difficult to control the mouse properly. That’s why I don’t use the treadmill when I’m revising/editing others’ translations/texts, because I often have to make a number of changes requiring accurate use of the keyboard and mouse. As walking was definitely slowing my typing speed down, I decided to buy DNS (see question 7).

  1. Can you concentrate on two things at the same time?

This article suggests that when you really need to think, you stop walking (who else is old enough to remember Gerald Ford and that joke about him not being able to chew gum and walk at the same time?). Personally, I think this is ridiculous, but perhaps it depends on the individual. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve taken the dogs out deliberately to mull a few problems over and come up with solutions.

TM DisplayThese days, just before I’m about to start the treadmill for an hour session, I find that I’m positively looking forward to focusing all my attention on the translation in hand, rather than getting distracted by emails/social media/family, etc. Perhaps because part of my brain is already working on keeping me on the treadmill (it’s far narrower than ones down the gym), the rest cannot afford to wander; or perhaps it’s due to that burst of motivation inspiring me to get on with it when I glance over and see the bright red display telling me how many minutes I’ve both walked and worked. Regardless, walking keeps me relatively energised and alert (and I’m not alone, according to this article).

  1. When you get tired, do you think it could impact negatively on your work, e.g. increased typos? Do you spend more time on self-review?

When I’m tired, I believe that standing and walking actually help channel my concentration. I don’t think I need to spend more time revising that I would otherwise have done, and I’m not aware that there are more typos than usual; in fact, if I dictate my translation with DNS, there are virtually none because I correct anything weird before moving on to the next segment.

  1. Do you fall off a lot?

Actually no, hardly ever, even though it is a narrow treadmill (33 cm/13 inches). And thankfully, when I have fallen off, I haven’t hurt myself (yet?). I usually stumble off the treadmill when I turn my head too far to speak to someone at the door to my room or when I’m trying to write on paper, so I cannot use the treadmill if I need to jot a lot of things down  (that’s why I couldn’t use it for the big editing job I was working on earlier in the year as I needed to make a lot of handwritten notes).

  1. Does the treadmill make a noise?

Yes, it does. Despite oiling it as often as necessary (every 30 hours), it is getting slightly noisier. I’ll have to try to clean it with soapy water as the instructions suggest. I also have to check it’s still running straight and adjust as necessary before every use.

  1. Does the noise affect your concentration while working?

No, I seem to be able to shut it out quite easily, especially when I’m wearing the headset to listen to a webinar or work with DNS.

  1. Can you combine it with DNS?

Yes, I find that DNS and the treadmill are a perfect combination. Obviously, it’s another learning curve, as you need to adjust from coming up with the translation whilst typing to thinking and then dictating and then re-dictating (which is what I tend to do at the moment). The impression I’ve got so far from my use of this tool is that I think more carefully about the wording as I’m speaking out loud.

When my hands are idle, I can also incorporate some arm stretches and apply some hand cream to my exceedingly dry skin. I should perhaps point out, however, that DNS picks up my accent really easily and has been pretty accurate from the word go.

  1. Does DNS pick up all the huffing and puffing?

What huffing and puffing? 🙂 No, DNS sometimes asks me to repeat what I’ve said, but it doesn’t type anything ridiculous. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend walking so fast on the treadmill that you end up out of breath.

  1. Does it mean the dogs get shorter walks?

No, not usually. Our main routes take around an hour (2.5 miles). Given that treadmill walking according to the article I mentioned in no. 2 is not nearly as good for you as proper walking because it’s the same repetitive motion all the time, I try to ensure I get out with them for a proper walk every day.

  1. Do you use your stand-up desk all the time?

Summerhouse 4Pretty much. However, I am becoming increasingly mindful of the fact that standing all day might not be all good, so whenever I feel that I can do a job, or part of it, equally well without a mouse and keyboard, I head off to the summerhouse if the weather’s good or another part of the house where I can put my feet up and rediscover the joys of sitting.

  1. How many hours do you find you can stand for before it becomes uncomfortable? Did you have to build up a tolerance?

I have a back problem, the result of an injury many years ago, and standing for a long time can make it painful sometimes, but as I also experience pain when lying in bed too long or in an uncomfortable bed when I’m away from home, I would say this pain is negligible. It’s also eased over the weeks as my body has become stronger and more used to this new set-up.

It’s my feet that hurt the most, which also depends on my footwear, since I only tend to put my trainers on when I’m actually going to use the treadmill.

I can now stand for 6 to 8 hours a day no problem. But if I spend one day standing a lot, the next I will probably seek some relief by ensuring I sit down more.

  1. What do you do when you’re not walking?

Massage ballsI’ve been standing either on the treadmill or balanced on its sides, which is probably not good for the machine and certainly doesn’t seem to do my feet any good as it’s not comfy. To ease some of the pain and get my circulation going, I bought a couple of massage balls that I roll around with my feet when sitting watching television. However, it eventually became obvious that I couldn’t continue to stand on the treadmill, so I have bought a Steppie balance board and a wobble board in an effort to keep moving whilst standing. In fact I’m polishing off this post right now rocking from side to side.

  1. Has using the treadmill helped you to lose weight?

When I first got the machine, rather annoyingly my weight went up a fair amount, but I also wasn’t using it much because of the type of work on my plate at the time. For the past eight weeks, however, since starting the 1,000,000 mile challenge, I have managed to shed all the extra kilos and some, which naturally I’m delighted about. But this has also coincided with another major lifestyle change, giving up dairy completely (I’m now an eggetarian), which cuts out lots of cakes, chocolate and biscuits besides cheese, so my calorie intake has gone down.

Most articles I’ve read seem to agree that treadmills aren’t going to help you lose much weight if you do nothing else because you have to walk too slowly to make it possible to work (it’s light rather than moderate exercise); however, as a piece of the healthier-living jigsaw, I think they have undoubtedly earned their place.

  1. What other benefits have you found?

It’s easier to be generally more active when you’re on your feet. Before I used to sit and sit and let the world come to me. My children popped in with questions, my husband brought me some of my endless cups of tea and even food sometimes, but now I get up and go to them and do things myself.

After suffering from insomnia off and on for the past eight and a half years, I’m also sleeping much better and generally feel more refreshed than I used to.

  1. And what has been the major drawback?

The swelling in my legs, especially around my feet and ankles. That’s the main reason why I don’t work at a sit-down desk any more, because when I do sit down to work, I want to raise my legs up as high as possible to aid circulation.

After being told too much sitting is bad for us, we’re now being told too much standing isn’t good either, which I can definitely relate to. Combining the two by alternating regularly throughout the day is a far better plan. Because of my set-up, I don’t always do that, but I do feel that standing rather than sitting for me is the way to go. I’m not even vaguely tempted to sit back at my normal desk and cannot even remember the last time I did so. I’m now looking forward to throwing the Steppie balance board into the mix. I’ll keep you posted on how it all goes.

TEDEd Video: Why sitting is bad for you – Murat Dalkilinç

If you’re interested in this topic, you might find these links useful. Start with the Get Britain Standing site as it contains lots of information that can help you decide on the best set-up for you. Seven standing desks are compared in this article.

Lundia is a UK stockist of several ergonomic solutions, and this is an example of a motorised sit/stand desk that does loads of amazing extras (although I’m sure it’d drive me bananas).

Besides the articles I’ve already mentioned above, you might like to read these two as well. The first reiterates the health hazards of sitting too much and gives some ideas of what you can do instead. And in the second the author explains why he found that standing was not for him, although he did implement some other changes to make his working life healthier.

For more info on standing work set-ups on this blog, please go to the Work-Life Balance page.

11 thoughts on “Answers to Your Questions on the Pros and Cons of Using a Stand-Up Treadmill Desk

  1. Have also been on a treadmill (looks like the same model) for a good while here – been meaning to report back as you have. I’ve had a different experience (more mixed between standing, sitting and walking – out of concern for the ‘barbers varicose legs’ issue), but overall think it was the right move, as you seem to think too.

    So much so, in fact, that I’ve recently converted from a wide sit-down desk to a raised ‘bar table’, forcing me to stand or perch on the accompanying stool. I do miss my supportive, comfy office chair, which used to be mixed with shorter bouts of standing/walking, but being forced to stand or perch for longer periods is doing the trick; more physical activity while at work, basically.

    Will probably do a write up around the one-year mark… which shouldn’t be far off!

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    1. One of the reasons I’ve bought a Steppie balance board is to introduce movement when I’m not using the treadmill so my legs don’t stay in the same position for more than a few minutes. Thanks for commenting here and I look forward to reading your write-up. If you take a look at my previous post on treadmills (link above), it details the treadmill and desk models I bought and why.

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  2. Hi Nikki. Super stuff! I actually came across your blog a while back and came back again today after reading a forum discussion on proz. I too am considering the plunge into a walking desk, mainly because the years of sitting have started to take their toll both in terms of weight and hip pain. I’ve always viewed it as the huge negative of our profession. All the feedback you provide is extremely useful and answers a lot of questions for me. I was, however, a little dismayed to read the bit about weight loss and especially the article you posted, until, that is, I actually read the article. It concludes that there is no weight loss or health gain “despite employees’ average daily steps rising over 1,000”. 1000? Surely we can’t reach such conclusions on such miserable data?

    Can I ask, almost a year on from this blog post, are you still using the Treadmill desk? If so, roughly how many hours are you doing daily? If you don’t mind my asking, has there been any more weight loss to notice? I am almost certainly a lot heavier than you (and yes, I’ll admit it, much heavier now than my facebook photo…) and my hope is that it will have a beneficial impact on that front, especially as I have become increasingly sedentary over the years, to the point of quasi-dormancy… 🙂 Are you still using DNS for translating and do you still like it? Is it still quite accurate or does it insert strange words regularly especially on technical texts? (I found this a problem when I experimented on it back in 2009). I’m considering getting a double adjustable desk so I can fit a treadmill and chair together so I can alternate between walking, standing and sitting. Would you recommend this, or do you feel it’s better to commit and go for a walking set-up alone to avoid any temptation to slack off? As I’m not sure I am going to go for the DNS method with SDL Trados Studio, can I ask what sort of speed did you find you could type, cut and paste etc with the same precision as sitting? Is this even possible? I’ve read blogs from coders saying quite a low speed allows them to do all their work without any noticeable additional difficulty, however maybe only one other translator besides yourself and she got rid of the walking desk after a year due to space issues. Sorry for all the questions, it’s a big investment in terms of money, time and adjusting working method so I want to get as much feedback first as possible. Huw

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    1. Hi Huw, my humble apologies for not getting back to you sooner. Your comment arrived at a bad time, then I was going to do a follow-up post anyway, but still haven’t found the time to do that.
      Unfortunately, due to an ongoing illness in the family, which keeps me on my feet but away from my desk, I haven’t used the treadmill as much as I would like because I usually need to sit down when I start working for a rest. And when I am at my desk I tend to use the Steppie (which is a balance board and so it keeps some movement in my legs) rather than the treadmill. This is because it really is difficult to type whilst walking and impossible to write notes. Since a lot of my work involves revising/editing, using a treadmill is not practical.But it’s probably also due to some laziness on my part!
      When using the mouse with a treadmill, there is quite a lot of sway, which means that cutting/pasting/etc. will be a bit slower than normal, especially at the beginning. And if you lose concentration, there’s always the potential to fall off the treadmill. This will also depend on what speed you walk at, but a lower speed is not going to burn as many calories. I walk quite fast in “real life” anyway, so I have mine set at 3 km per hour.
      Consequently, above all as I have still haven’t given up sugar, I haven’t noticed any more weight loss, although I haven’t gained either. I don’t see how walking on a treadmill wouldn’t have a positive effect on one’s weight, especially if combined with a controlled diet.
      I am still using DNS for all translations except ones in tables as Wordfast and DNS do not combine well in tables and it’s quicker to type. The other day I dictated a translation from paper (a non-convertible PDF) and it was so easy as I didn’t have to take my eyes off the text whilst I was translating, which made the whole process quite fast. Now that I’ve been using DNS for so long it doesn’t seem to insert too many funny words (it’s supposed to learn as you go along), but I guess that does depend on the type of texts involved.
      If I had the room in my office and worked with a PC, then I would definitely go for the option of a motorised desk that can change from a low to high position. However, as I need to be flexible about where I work, and often work away from home, I use a laptop at the moment so when I want to sit, I go to a different room. I find this can also be psychologically beneficial because it’s a change of scenery and the view from my office window is rather drab. Right now, for example, I’m replying to your comment from the summer house in the garden, enjoying some sunshine and fresh air.

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