Five Years on the Treadmill: a walking while working update

Five years ago (five and a half, really) I bought myself a treadmill desk. I wrote a blog post about it at the time: find it here. I wrote it partly because I couldn’t find any personal accounts from people who’d spent their own money on one, rather than journalists trying out a freebie.

Recently I was extolling the virtues of the treadmill on Twitter and a friend who’s just bought one commented that she hadn’t been able to find any accounts from long-term users. Which is a problem: these things aren’t cheap and of course you want to know if it will end up gathering dust like the bread machine and the spiralizer.  

So, here we go: Treadmill 2, Electric Boogaloo, aka my five-year trip report.

Does it help?

Oh God, yes.

I bought the treadmill, which cost a serious chunk of change, because I was in constant pain from my back. Sitting had become a flaring agony and since my job is basically typing, which is generally done sitting in a chair, this was not fun. I was standing up to eat meals because I couldn’t bear to sit more; having to lie on the office floor for relief or stand up in meetings because of the pain. It hurt so much, all the time. Plus I had two trapped nerves in quick succession, and those are nasty, not to mention hundreds of quid in physio bills and lost work. This had been going on for years. Spending four figures on a treadmill desk was very much an act of desperation.

And it worked. My back pain melted away. The problem was that I was sitting all the time (I can’t stand up for more than about 20mins without dizziness and stuff so a standing desk wouldn’t work); when I stopped sitting, it stopped hurting. I have had no back pain since, over five and a half years. No trapped nerves. No joint problems. Nada.

I don’t know what’s causing your back pain, obviously. I just know that being upright and mobile instead of sitting in a chair was all it took to fix mine and keep it fixed, even as I slide inexorably through my late 40s.

Do you really use it?

LOL yes. I haven’t sat at my desk in five years.  I only keep it because the books have to go somewhere.

Desk absolutely covered in books and crap
I’m not saying this is good, but it is my desk

I walk on the treadmill my entire working day, which was a solid eight hours a day till lockdown/kids at home. In fact, I wore out my first treadmill. (I bought the model meant for max six hours a day, and then ran it for eight hours a day for five and a half years, wearing out several pairs of shoes in the process. I couldn’t replace the motor, which was the worn out bit, because the model has been discontinued.) I have just upgraded to a heavy duty model because frankly, when I realised the old one was on its way out, I panicked at the thought of having to sit again.

Are your legs buff or what?

Thighs of steel, mate. My PT, a semi pro boxer, got me doing hamstring curls once, kept increasing the weight ‘till you find it hard’, gave up before my legs did, and was forced to admit I have stronger thighs than him. Ha.

What’s the downsides?

They’re expensive. And big, although the new models are significantly more compact. Other than that: none, honestly. It suits me down to the ground.

Shot of treadmill plus desk in my study
Treadmill and desk. I’d just like to point out my actual work surface is respectable. Ish

Maintenance?

Very occasional lubrication (a squirt of goop under the belt) and also, you ought to take off the motor hood and hoover inside occasionally because the amount of weird furry black crap that accumulates due to electrostatic is amazing. It looked like there was a cat in there. However, we’re talking once a year, minimal effort.

Is it hard to type while walking?

Nope, and I’m malcoordinated and a crap typist. I’ve written I don’t know how many novels on this thing, but it’s hundreds of thousands of words.

Noisy?

The motor and belt. White noise really, plus the sound of your feet. I find it quite soothing.

Don’t you get tired?

Physically, a bit. I mean, it depends how fit you are and how fast you walk—I like it quite brisk, at 1.8 to 2mph—and whether you alternate between chair and desk, and how many hours you do. And of course you get used to it as you increase your activity levels. Mentally, I find I’m much more alert moving than I am slumped in a chair.

Is it really exercise, walking that slowly?

It’s NEAT: non-exercise activity thermogenesis. You expend more energy and build more muscle over the course of a day by walking, even slowly, than you do sitting.

What model do you have and where do I get one?

I’ve got a Lifespan TR5000 (the heavy duty one for the obsessive walker or office). I got mine from the Treadmill Desk Store, and if you’re in the UK I recommend them highly: super nice people and really helpful, from ordering to delivery to aftercare.

Are you a shill for them or what?

Nope. I’m a full time author whose back doesn’t hurt, and I’m spreading the word because this thing has genuinely changed my life.

All right, but the real question is, what’s your m.p.n. (miles per novel)?

I have also become obsessed with knowing this, so I’m going to track how many miles I walk for my next book. Once I finish the third book of the Will Darling Adventures, which is what I should be doing now, gotta go.


Cover for The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting. Two Regency gentlemen silhouetted in frame surrounded by cards

Next book, 100% written while walking, is The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting, coming 24th February.

“A perfect quarantine read. This felt like KJ’s very own sexy and skullduggerous take on the romcom trend, and I loved it.”—Talia Hibbert

9 replies
  1. Molly
    Molly says:

    This is a terrific write-up! I particularly appreciate the maintenance bit–with two cats and a dog, I should have assumed there would be a potential hairball-motor problem but I’m not sure I’d have thought of it until there started to be a problem.

    I really appreciate you doing the “seasoned user’s perspective” to diversify the crowd of, exactly as you said, month-long reports from people who were paid to attempt using one rather than deciding on their own.

    Your original write-up put the idea in my head years ago and the combination of your recent tweets + working from home made me bite the bullet, and I couldn’t be more pleased so far. I’ve had more than enough years to realize I’m never really going to give up leisure time in order to exercise; walking while working is instead a pure gain. After all, I love a walk! –in theory, in good weather, in a surfeit of time…. So doing it inside, non-sweatily, during the portion of the day when I actually can and do force myself to do non-leisure activities? Perfect.

    Reply
    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      It’s an absolute boon. The fact that you can have a frantic work day with no time for exercise *but you have still exercised*–it feels like a cheat code for the universe, ahaha.

      Reply
      • Molly
        Molly says:

        I suddenly realize I must know: do the sea-legs ever go away? Do you, after these years, climb off and feel absolutely normal, or is it still a little “oh! floor isn’t moving!” wobbly every time? (I sort of like the sea-legs in the way one can sort of like feeling sore after exercise, but I won’t complain if it fades over time.)

  2. whimsyful
    whimsyful says:

    This is a very informative write-up! I’ve mostly managed to alleviate sitting-induced back pain through use of a standing desk with an anti-fatigue mat and regular yoga, but it still gets me sometimes. I actually do have a walking treadmill but I don’t use it all that often (usually while watching a drama on my computer), so reading what it’s like for a seasoned, long time user is really helpful. Do you usually wear workout clothes while walking on the treadmill, or do you set it slow enough so you don’t sweat and can wear regular clothes?

    Reply
  3. chacha1
    chacha1 says:

    I am lucky in many many ways, starting with: 55 and no back pain, able to work a desk job since 1989 and don’t even have carpal tunnel syndrome. My luck is probably enhanced by daily yoga since the age of 28, but it’s still luck.

    Delighted that the treadmill desk works so well for you because I love your books and need more of them. 🙂

    Reply
  4. Ananda
    Ananda says:

    This post is very encouraging and really inspiring!

    I’d read your original post when you got your treadmill desk but I already had a regular treadmill. Happily, I found numerous DIY articles on creative and inexpensive ways to convert it to a treadmill desk, so that’s what I’m going to be doing this weekend. 🙂

    Loved this post. Thank you!

    Reply
  5. X
    X says:

    Yu know, I have been wondering about these for years. But I’ve never seen a blog post by a user. This has helped immensely. I go to the gym twice a day, but would love to add walking while working to my daily routine. (Not a fan of sitting on my butt for hours on end.)

    Now to find a decent company in the US to get one from.

    Reply

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