Originally published Aug. 31, 2015
By Nicole Tsong, former Fit for Life writer
WHEN I SWEAT, I am dressed for it. I wear clothes that wick moisture. I bring a towel. I have a water bottle. I am prepared.
When I go to an office, wearing jeans and a blazer, neither of which wicks perspiration, I prefer to stay cool, professional, appropriate.
Staying cool was not to be.
I arrived at the downtown Zillow Group office, dressed in business casual and ready to test one of the real estate database company’s treadmill desks. I have been curious about treadmill desks, which are showing up at some companies as an alternative desk setup, and a perk.
Sitting for prolonged periods, in general, is terrible for you, experts say. Your spine, back, shoulders and hips get weak; it can cause illness; and most of us do it way too much. I recently discovered a recurring shoulder injury is partly due to hunching from sitting. Installing a treadmill desk at home is unlikely, but I wanted to know whether it would make a difference.
Zillow has 10 treadmill desks available for the 850 people in its Seattle office, and they are popular, says Amy Bohutinsky, Zillow’s (now former) chief operating officer. Zillow brought them in nearly two years ago, and people reserve time on them, including conference rooms with two treadmills for walking meetings. Walk ’n’ talks!
The treadmill speed goes up to 4 miles per hour, though I quickly found that was far too fast to do anything but talk, a bit breathlessly.
Employees bring laptops in to work. Bohutinsky mainly uses the treadmill desk to get through emails, have one-on-one meetings or make calls; it’s tough to concentrate on a serious project while walking.
She particularly likes the treadmill during the dark Seattle winter. If she wants to make 10,000 steps a day, a standard for most activity trackers, she will meet her goal if she hops on the treadmill desk twice a day. Walking is great for afternoon energy slumps, she noted.
I was ready to try.
The desks are adjustable. I brought in a few printouts to edit while walking. And, yes; it’s true that it’s rather challenging at first to walk and think. I had trouble concentrating initially, plus my handwriting got extra messy while walking. I couldn’t walk as fast as I thought I could while working. Even 2.6 miles per hour was a hair too speedy; I slowed the treadmill down to a comfortable 2.4.
Not long after, I started to sweat. I took off my jacket. I turned on the provided desk fan.
I had flats on, and soon my feet started to hurt. Many Zillow employees bring sneakers for their treadmill desk time, Bohutinsky said.
But the longer I walked, the more I could focus. I learned I am quite skilled at texting on my phone while walking, a dubious skill. Talking while walking was straightforward, and if I had a meeting, I could have speeded up the treadmill. I didn’t use a computer, but I felt confident I could have sent out a few snappy emails.
After 25 minutes, I was ready to stop. I was tired. I wanted to sit down to work. And I was getting blisters.
But the benefits were impressive. I walked for almost half an hour instead of sitting slouched at a desk. I didn’t get fresh air, but I got exercise. If I sat again for another hour, I would have wanted to do it again.
I was surprised to figure out I wouldn’t want to use it full-time; that sounded tiring, although you could turn the treadmill off and stand. But if I had one nearby, hopping on a couple of times a day would be an easy yes.