Note: I’ll post pictures (and possibly video) of this whole setup once I’ve decided on the final position of the desk and gotten the cable situation tidied up.

I’ve spent years of my life sitting in front of computers, and there’s been a lot of talk recently about how that can cause health issues such as dying. Seems drastic, but I buy it. I’ve watched my health decline pretty steadily in the last 5 years. I also recently promised my wife that I’d try to live past 75 (I turn 35 in July, so there’s a ways to go). To that end, I wrote a script that undoes years of sedentary lifestyle, restores youth and vigor, and does one weird trick for a flat belly.

Just kidding.

I knew I needed to get out of my chair. I’d also been reading about the dangers of standing all the time and was convinced I needed a hybrid solution. I decided to go whole hog and buy a better office chair, a convertible standing desk with microprocessor-controlled lifts, and a low-lying treadmill. It wasn’t cheap, but it was an easy sell to my wife when I mentioned it might mean I don’t die young.

I wasn’t sure I’d like the whole treadmill desk thing enough to make it worth the expense. It’s turned out (thus far) that I actually really enjoy it. It’s not difficult to work on a computer while walking between .9 and 1.5 mph, and when you need a brain break you can just turn up the speed and veg out for a while.

I have split my sitting and standing time over the last two days in a 1:3 ratio and have logged 11,750 steps at the time of this writing. It feels good. I’m hoping it will improve my sleep patterns as well, and get me in good enough shape to handle more rigorous activities as the summer goes on. I do miss mountain biking and rock climbing.

I’m currently about 50 pounds overweight and have horrible endurance. However, walking while working is proving easy enough that I can literally do it all day, or at least during the time I usually spend sitting at my computer which is typically all day.

About the gear

After I made up my mind to improve my health situation, the first thing I did was upgrade my old office chair, which — in combination with poor keyboard height — had turned out to be the reason my right hand went numb1. It was also causing enough pain in my lower back to make shoveling snow impossible. That’s bad in Minnesota.

The chair did some immediate good for me, but my desk wasn’t conducive to ideal keyboard and display heights. A little research got me the specs I needed, and I started looking into alternate work setups, ultimately deciding that I needed a standing desk. I decided to look into convertible desks so that I still had the option to sit when necessary.

The desk I ended up with is from NextDesks — the Terra model model. It’s a beautifully simple slab of wood mounted on legs with microprocessor-controlled lifts which allow me to go from an ergonomic seated position to a full standing desk in about 5 seconds, without spilling my coffee. It has some nifty cable management add-ons and is very sturdy. I added my own keyboard tray to it, positionable in any direction and easy to move around based on my work position. I can easily keep my wrists off the surface, elbows tucked in and forearms at 90 from my body, as my PT recommended.

I decided somewhere along the line that just getting off my ass wasn’t enough, though, and I ordered the LifeSpan treadmill from NextDesks as well. It fits nicely under the desk and has a desktop display/controller that provides start/pause/stop, speed controls, a safety dongle and stats as I walk. It has a USB charging port, which I personally feel I can never have too many of. It also includes Bluetooth connectivity for use with their iPad app or desktop applications. I haven’t been able to try that out yet, but hope to soon2.

How it’s going

I’m walking as I write this. I actually find I’m typing faster, but that’s primarily because of the more ergonomic position of my keyboard, not the treadmill. I saw an instant improvement in speed and accuracy when I dropped my keyboard about 5 inches from where it was. However, I don’t find that the motion of walking (currently at 1.2 mph) to be an impediment for keyboard or trackpad use.

I do find it harder to solve frustrating problems while working like this. For whatever reason, my hard-focus concentration gets harder to find. The last time this happened, I just unplugged my MacBook Air from the 27” display on my desk and plopped down with it in an armchair for 15 minutes. Once the problem was solved, I actually found it a relief to hop back on the treadmill. I attribute that partly to having my 27” display back in front of me, and I think that hiding my favorite computer equipment behind a treadmill is great motivation.

As a side note, I’m not used to wearing shoes in the house but definitely advise against long periods on the treadmill wearing just socks. A little padding goes a long way. You also become very conscious of how you move in general, and adjusting your gait and the way your feet fall can help reduce fatigue and soreness. It takes some conscious effort at first, but becomes natural quickly. I still need to do some research on this, but some basic experimentation has me doing pretty well.

Also, I’ve been going through a lot of water. If you’re thinking about a treadmill desk, buy a good water bottle. I’m probably going to need a clip-on fan by mid-July, too.

The only serious issue I’m having with the treadmill is not being able to easily swap it out for my chair when I want to sit for a bit. The desk is designed for making the change, and I have a great chair, but I don’t have the space in my office to roll the 110 lb. treadmill straight back, or even around to the side. I’ve taken to tipping it on its side and lowering the desk, but it’s not an ideal solution and the treadmill isn’t designed to rest in that position. I may need to change the location of my desk or surrender and use a small, separate desk as my sitting space. It sure would be a waste of the abilities of this desk, though.

I’ve only had this setup for a couple of days now, so this post is really an initial impression. I’ll check back in after a while with an update on progress, and I’m sure I’ll be talking about it on Systematic as time goes on.

  1. It started with a tingling in my thumb and spread. The numbness covered the entire right half of my torso and up into my face at one point. The cause turned out to be my posture and the effect it had on my right scapula, causing nerve pinching across multiple pathways. Some physical therapy, a better office chair and more ergonomic working conditions have cleared it up completely. 

  2. I got my IP blocked from the App Store after too much fiddling around with non-API scraping. It’s a long story. Well, not really, I guess. That’s pretty much the story.