Why I have never considered using a treadmill desk

Ten years ago, in 2005, a friend of mine sent me an article about a trend among some people to use a treadmill desk in order to squeeze in some exercise while working. He seemed to think it sounded like a cool idea that wouldn’t interfere much with work.

I have never considered using a treadmill desk. Because of a recent article that seems to confirm my thoughts from a decade ago, I’m posting my reaction here, along with a link to the article.

My response in January 2005

At one point years ago I was thinking about stuff like that, but a few experiments showed how pointless and soulless it is, for me. My enjoyment of exercise is completely ruined if extraneous stuff is brought in, like reading or listening to music. I learned that the whole profound pleasure and meaning of physical activity comes from being completely engaged in it, with nothing else on the mind. So the former fantasies of multitasking are now completely antithetical to my current life values.

It's not the quantity [of treadmill movement] that's the issue. That's still one foot per second of continuous movement, requiring irrelevant constant muscular pulses. Note that I cannot read a simple newspaper in a car or a bus or a plane.

I fidget all the time, especially when playing chess, but the movements are not arbitrary and disembodied, but are connected with feelings of comfort or with emotional states relevant to my mental processes. It's not like a treadmill commanding me to go a foot every second. It's my personal choice when to shake my leg or shift my foot or whatever, and for how long.

Philosophy and practice

You may be wondering, from how I phrased my reasons, whether I have a primarily theoretical, ideological opposition to a treadmill desk, or simply a pragmatic one.

I don’t really make a distinction: I take what works and doesn’t work and make my observations a basis for a possibly more general philosophy, rather than adopt an ideology and make my practice fit it.

Basically, I actually have tried multitasking in various ways for the purpose of “saving time” and it just doesn’t work for me. Furthermore, sometimes I multitask despite knowing it doesn’t work, and I pay the price. For example:

It’s not saving time if I try to do two things and end up not even doing one of them well.

The research

The article I just read was a news article, “The downside of treadmill desks”. I was pretty shocked and amused to read, “… surprisingly little research had examined whether treadmill desks affect someone‚Äôs ability to get work done.”

The results, when the researchers compared the treadmill walkers with the people sitting at their desks, substantially favored sitting. The people who had walked during the testing performed worse on almost all aspects of thinking, including the ability to concentrate and remember, compared with those who had been seated.

And they were much worse at typing, being substantially slower and more error prone than the sitting group.

The irony is that the researcher interviewed still wants to believe in benefits:

But even with that caveat, he said, he believes that the health benefits of a treadmill desk should outweigh any declines in productivity and, in fact, he plans to buy one for himself.

Alternatives?

My alternative to sitting all day, which indeed is by now known to be terrible for health, is simple:

But doesn’t this take time and stop the flow of work? Actually, no. There’s only so much focus I can have while working on something continuously without a break anyway. So forcing myself to take a walk is actually a win-win situation, not even just a mere tradeoff.

Conclusion

Treadmill desks do not appeal to me at all, and I believe I have sound scientific reasons based on what psychology has learned about the working of the human mind. However, I understand that different people’s minds may work differently from mine.

Have you used a treadmill desk? Why or why not? Do you believe in your ability to multitask without a performance hit?

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