The truth and nothing but: 2017 update on my stand-up desk set-up with treadmill and Steppie

It’s been over two years since I decided my bottom was going to spread no further and that it was high time I got off it and started being more active. Walking the dog (I’ve got a greyhound) just wasn’t enough to counteract the huge amount of time I was spending sitting down either at my desk or with the family on cold winter nights in front of the TV or playing board games.

Galvanised by all the New Year’s resolutions popping up on social media and after reading yet another article on the dangers of our current lifestyle, I decided to get a stand-up desk and a treadmill to go with it in 2015. You can read all about my purchases in my first post on the topic and more details in Answers to Your Questions on the Pros and Cons of Using a Stand-Up Treadmill Desk.

This update has been prompted by a comment on the second of those posts, so I’ll use the questions asked to structure this one.

Are you still using the treadmill desk?

Yes, I’m still using the stand-up desk but I very rarely use the treadmill. The honest truth is that I find it difficult to fit using it into my work schedule for several reasons. I drink a lot of tea in the morning to help me wake up and, besides preferring to do that sitting down, I certainly cannot do it while walking. My office is the least pleasant room in the house and staring at a cold wall beyond the monitor was just not making me happy, especially when we have a lovely garden brimming with flowers and creatures that I want to enjoy as much as possible.

You only live once and that’s the beauty of being freelance. I get to call the shots, including where and when I want to work. In spring and autumn I often work in the summerhouse overlooking the pond, snuggled in a comfy armchair with my legs up on a pouf. As it’s too hot in summer to stay in the summerhouse in the middle of the day and in winter it’s too cold (despite the heater), I tend to work in the conservatory or living room if I want to sit down.

It’s also really difficult to type whilst walking (although I am using the treadmill while typing, not dictating, the majority of this post) and impossible to write notes. Since a lot of my work involves revising/editing, using a treadmill is not practical. But undoubtedly sitting rather than walking is also due to some laziness on my part!

How many hours are you doing daily?

I don’t use my treadmill daily at all, but I do use my stand-up desk with Steppie (which is a balance board and so it keeps some movement in my legs) every day. The number of hours varies depending on how long I’ve been standing elsewhere during the day (an ongoing illness in the family keeps me on my feet quite a bit, but away from my desk, so I often feel like resting when I start work) and whether I’ve been on a long dog walk or have one planned, since exercising outdoors is my preference rather than inside four walls.

Has there been any more weight loss to notice?

Sadly not! Despite making a few changes to my diet (I have given up dairy as I am in the process of changing from being a vegetarian to a vegan), I’m still a bit of a sugar addict, especially when life is stressful as it has been recently. The plus point, though, is that I haven’t gained any weight despite not really paying much attention to how many calories I’m taking on board. I don’t see how walking on a treadmill wouldn’t have a positive effect on one’s weight, though, especially if combined with a controlled diet.

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 am still using DNS (Dragon Naturally Speaking) for all my translations except when they are in tables as Wordfast and DNS do not combine well in that case 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 (given that I’m not a touch typist), 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 each time you use it), but I guess that does depend on the type of texts involved.

I don’t think you can effectively translate when using the treadmill if you are not dictating. You can type but it’s not easy given there is quite a lot of sway and this can throw you off balance and you could then potentially fall off the treadmill and hurt yourself (I’ve stumbled a fair few times, but not done any major damage to myself as yet).

Would you recommend a double adjustable desk that can fit a treadmill and chair together to alternate between walking, standing and sitting, or do you feel it’s better to commit and go for a walking set-up alone to avoid any temptation to slack off? 

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 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. This morning, for example, I was working in the summerhouse in the garden, enjoying some spring sunshine and fresh air.

As far as I am aware (and, obviously, I’m no medical expert), standing all the time is not good for you either so it’s probably best to have a set-up where you can have the best of both worlds and even use an app (such as Workrave) that will tell you when you need to stand up. But research into this area is still young and as more studies are conducted, I’m sure experts will change their minds or come up with other recommendations.

I was certainly far keener on the idea of a treadmill when it first arrived just over two years ago than I am now. In fact, I am hoping that writing this post will shame me into getting back on it more often, as I do genuinely enjoy it when I do and feel better for it. Sometimes, however, other events in life take over. And, as I said above, it does depend on what type of work I’m doing and also when I do it. I tend to get up very early these days (between 4 and 5 a.m.) and I can’t use the treadmill while translating when everyone else is still asleep as it would make too much noise.

What sort of speed do you find you can type, cut and paste, etc., with the same precision as sitting? Is this even possible?

Yes, it’s certainly possible. Using the mouse when walking is easier than typing, in my opinion, but cutting/pasting/etc., will still be a bit slower than normal, especially at the beginning while getting used to the new set-up.

All this will also depend on the speed you walk at. A lower speed will make it easier to type and control the mouse, but it is not going to burn as many calories. I walk quite fast in “real life” anyway, so I set my treadmill to 3 km per hour. Walking more slowly than that feels unnatural and I prefer the pace to be relatively punchy. It also feels better for my back, which tends to give me problems due to a lower back injury after rowing in a race 30 odd years ago now (I grow old … I grow old …)*.

Final comments

As I said above, research into the benefits of standing while working is still in its infancy, so if you’re considering this set-up, you might find it useful to:

– read this Guardian article, which questions whether stand-up desks really are healthier options, despite health guidelines recommending we get at least 150 minutes exercise per week (which, let’s face it, is hardly anything at all)

– read this other article in the same newspaper stressing the importance of being active for a minimum of one hour a day to offset the harmful effects of sitting because the above-mentioned WHO guidelines of 150 minutes of exercise per week are insufficient

– read this article published in The New York Times which suggests we should be taking 15,000 steps per day rather than the previously recommended 10,000. I can walk just over 6,000 steps in one hour on the treadmill at 3 km/h. This means that I could quite easily hit a 15,000-step-per-day target if I do two hours on the treadmill and take the dog out for a walk or do two and a half hours on just the treadmill.

– read this review of a standing desk set-up by an SfEP member and copy-editor and proofreader who talks about his use of a magnetic (resistance) treadmill

– watch this video of a treadmill desk in action posted by the New York Times

– visit the Work While Standing & Walking website. It contains lots of advice and tips on using treadmills while working

The Gymba standing platform is cheaper than the Steppie and looks like a good alternative. However, I really covet the Fluidstance Level balance board, despite it’s far higher cost, because it seems to introduce more movement. Nevertheless, as the reviewer in this article says, much as I do with the Steppie, if you stop thinking about what you’re doing, it’s easy just to stand still in the middle of the board rather than continuing to rock.

I don’t tend to wear any footwear when using my Steppie as I find it’s easier to make it rock when barefoot or wearing socks. Similarly,  I walk on the treadmill in socks.

Last summer I invited ITI Wessex members round to my house to see my set-up and try out the treadmill and DNS. Although some of them have changed their working habits as a result and spend less time sitting, they were more keen on the balance boards than the treadmill. If anyone would like to come to mine to try out my standing desk, I’d be happy to organise another party if there is interest.

Finally, I do recommend you consider all the options carefully before deciding what might be best for you. For more info on standing work set-ups on this blog, please go to the Work-Life Balance page.

*From ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ by T.S. Eliot. I studied this poem and many others by this poet for my English A level and they have remained my favourites ever since.

7 thoughts on “The truth and nothing but: 2017 update on my stand-up desk set-up with treadmill and Steppie

  1. Interesting, Nikki. Like you, I have dogs too and find that walking them twice a day and my various evening activities ( badminton, yoga, dance) is quite enough to offset the effects of our sedentary lifestyle. It’s quite nice to sit down and work for a rest, I must admit! I’ve started using a Fitbit this year and it’s interesting to see how many steps you do do when at home – certainly acts as an incentive to walk the dogs longer if I’m tempted to slack!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Easily, with two decent dog walks – up to an hour in the morning, half an hour in the afternoon. This weekend I’ve done 20 k and 15 k respectively as I’ve been walking, gardening and reinstating the kitchen after the decorators! Looking forward to being back behind my desk for a rest this week….

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Nikki, I’ve been standing for the last year or so and was interested to read this update on how it’s going for you. I have created a standing station based on two fixed shelves. I’ve found the quality of the shoes I wear makes a difference to my comfort levels. I’ve also changed my keyboard and mouse set up because, while my back has improved, I find there is more strain on my wrists. I guess that is the lack of arm supports. In any case, overall, I’m pleased with the change.

    Liked by 1 person

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