Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

Why I'm Writing This Column on a Treadmill

I am admittedly eccentric. Here are some of my credentials:

  • I spend an average of four hours each week during the school year coaching a debating team at my local high school.
  • I like opera and jazz and rock and Broadway show tunes more or less equally.
  • My favorite podcast is West Wing Weekly — a one-hour program that, each week, dissects a single episode of the 154-episode TV show (starring Martin Sheen and running from 1999 to 2006) in stupendous — and, to my mind, interesting and exquisite — detail.
  • I have a treadmill desk that allows me to walk while I write and coach clients.

This last eccentricity is about two years old. My coaching clients don't tell me they hear it but some must wonder about the motor's soothing electric thrum in the background, or perhaps the gentle clump clump clump of my feet striking the platform.

My husband rolls his eyes at me, and briefly worries about having married such an out-and-out geek. But I'm confident I've made the right decision to walk while I write.

I first heard about treadmill desks in 2010 while attending a conference in San Francisco. I didn't believe such a device existed but one of my colleagues challenged me to Google it and I was shocked to find thousands of entries for treadmill desks — including photos. (I just Googled it again and landed more than five million hits this time.)

I've always enjoyed walking — even as a 12-year-old I'd walk to the beach by myself and go for a 30-minute stroll — and to this day, I always walk to the bank, the library, the grocery store. I wear a pedometer, typically registering more than 10,000 steps per day, even before the treadmill.

But the idea of treadmill desks appealed to me because I have back problems, exacerbated by sitting. Also, I know my writing improves when I walk first.

Eventually, I found a neighbor who was throwing out a treadmill and willing to give it to me at no charge. I had it hauled up to my office and used it intermittently for about four years. The trouble was, it was had no flat surface on which to balance a computer. Also it was very loud and very large. I used it for walking when I didn't feel like going out in the rain. But I couldn't use it while writing.

A few years ago I bought myself a standing desk as a way of helping my back. Sadly, I found standing no easier than sitting. I noticed I tended to hike myself up on one hip, which I knew was bad, but couldn't seem to correct. As a result, I mostly kept my standing desk in the sitting position.

A few years ago, however, I found myself in an exercise equipment shop and spotted an under-the-desk treadmill with no top or sides, just the treadmill component for the feet. I fell in love with it. Whisper quiet, it would not only fit under my standing desk, it also had a motor with the strength to withstand eight hours of walking per day. As soon as I received my tax refund, I took the money and bought my treadmill. My brand — a LifeSpan — cost about $1,400 CDN. (I receive no royalties or kickbacks. I mention these specifics only because I know some readers will ask.) You need a strong motor if you're going to be using it more than four hours a day.

I am ecstatic with this new addition to my office. People often ask me if I can actually walk and type at the same time. I can. I generally walk 2 mph (a little slower if I'm coaching someone, because I don't want to sound out-of-breath.) It's easy to type at this speed and I can even highlight text and move it around or add hotlinks, if I concentrate. Just one problem: trying to write something by hand. My appalling handwriting already makes me look like an arthritic 90-year-old — and it becomes even worse when I'm on the treadmill. But to me, that's a small price to pay.

Now I always reach my 10,000-step goal well before 11 a.m. and, even better, my exercise is scattered throughout the day — not concentrated in one or two large clumps. By the end of the day I've usually walked more than 20,000 steps, which is the equivalent of 10 miles (16 km). Best of all I've been able to accomplish this while working and while protecting my hair-trigger back.

I'm not sure I believe the long list of benefits listed on the Trekdesk website but I can tell you that strolling on a treadmill enhances my creativity and helps me write more easily and more fluently.

Sometimes a little eccentricity is a good thing.

P.S. I still also walk outside every day, as well, because there's nothing better than walking in nature.


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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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