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The things I do to never have to leave the office.

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On the Treadmill to Having-it-All

I am writing this blog while walking 2mph at my desk. My treadmill desk. This has probably cracked a few of you up already, because I am no fitness buff. But in the past year I’ve noticed that my energy and my creativity aren’t what I want them to be, and this concerns me, as does the extra 25 pounds I’ve put on and what that means for my overall health.

I didn’t just start worrying about this in the past week. It’s been on my mind for, well, several years. But what to do? I own a business, work about 60 hours each week, help care for my grandchildren, and I’m the primary educator for my home-schooled 13-year old granddaughter. What do I enjoy most in my precious little downtime? Knitting. Hardly an impact sport.

Two years ago, the National Institutes of Health published a study that showed prolonged sitting increases death rates across all demographics. Even worse, this result was despite exercise. So even if I could find time to walk 5 miles per day, I would spend the rest of each day in a drawn-out suicide. Hopeless. I chose to ignore it. One year ago, the idea that sitting is more deadly than smoking started getting a lot of press.  Harder to ignore, yet still I chose not to act.

But last week, when I forced myself to look at the actual me in the mirror (and not my 25-year-old self), and realized that taking a long walk had made my lower back hurt, everything snapped into place. Time for a change.

My situation hasn’t changed, so finding time was the real challenge. I thought about making a standing desk, but to me that seems like just another form of not-moving. I made it downstairs to our workout room a few times (yes, we have a fully equipped workout room – which I almost never enter), but found myself distracted by the things that weren’t getting done.  I started researching treadmill desks.

When I first mentioned it, my wife looked at me with high skepticism, my son laughed out loud, and my granddaughter shook her head. If they suspected I would not stick with it, they could be forgiven, because that is a real risk with me and exercise. In fairness to them, they could not picture it either. I had done my research without letting them in on it, so the idea of working on a treadmill was a bit foreign.

My research showed that a treadmill desk – without the extra required computer – would cost anywhere from $1,400 - $2,000, which is a lot to spend on something I might not take to. So I got creative, and decided to build my own.

I wouldn’t need a $6k treadmill like my wife, daughter, and granddaughter use for their long runs. Something quiet and sturdy would do for my anticipated 2-3mph pace. I would need a writing table that could span the treadmill, and would need to build a riser for the table. I also wanted a sufficient computer to network with my main work computer. After all, this would be a full working desk. Here’s how much it cost:

Treadmill Weslo G5.9 $247
Table Sauder Escritoire $49
 Lumber  Four 4X4s and three 6X1 boards  $41
Duck Tape 1 roll and 4 sheets   $11
 Felt Pads  for riser feet  $8
 Computer Tiger Direct super-sale –
Gateway all-in-one computer
 $125 after rebates
  Total $481

We called in some muscle to haul the treadmill up to our 2nd floor office, but the rest of the project was truly do-it-ourselves. We decided to use Duck Tape to seal and decorate the boards, rather than going through the trouble of sanding and staining. I was in a rush by then, and this seemed like a fun and artsy way to make fast work of the risers.

Here’s how much time we spent:

Assembling the treadmill: 25 minutes (Weslo makes it super easy, since the wiring is pre-assembled. But make sure before you drive home with it that the hardware pack and instructions are in the box! Online comments showed that there is a big problem with that. Ours were there, but still it's wroth checking. Otherwise, the treadmill is extremely good for the price!).

Assembling the escritoire: 40 minutes

Building the risers (including Duck Tape embellishment): 90 minutes

Total: 2 hours and 35 minutes

My goal is to walk 5 miles per day, but I started at 2.25 miles and I’m working my way up over the next week. The biggest adjustment is learning to type as fast as I am accustomed to at my regular desk. I read articles that suggested the adjustment time to full productivity is anywhere from 2-6 weeks.

Will I stick with this? Yes. I know I will, because this is what I have decided to do. Looking back on various exercise plans, I know that I never committed to them, and all it takes to stick with something is conscious commitment.

Is this for everyone? I’m sure it’s not! The treadmill desk suits me because it is part of a lifelong pattern of wanting to have it all. I get to work and exercise at the same time, which means I make no sacrifices of the other things I want to do with my time.

I think that’s the trick to creating a life that has balance (and we are always creating, because we – and conditions – are always changing). We have to figure out the things that work for us, that facilitate a life that includes family, hobbies, work, rest, community. For me, today, it’s a treadmill desk.

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01 March 2015
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