Walking While Working: An Experiment

For those of you that know me personally or follow me on my social feeds, you may have noticed pictures and posts regarding a recent undertaking of mine: walking while working. In a software-savvy job, there is little need to get up and move about during the course of a workday. Combine that with my hobbies in computers and video gaming, and you end up with a very sedentary lifestyle. The only chances I would get to move around would come on the weekend or special vacations. I am about a month into this new  initiative, and I feel I have enough data to share the motivation, tests, and results of my personal experiment thus far. In fact, this entire blog post has been written from a treadmill moving along at two miles per hour.

Why Walking?

A few years ago, not long after the acquisition of Omniture by Adobe, the company participated in the Global Corporate Challenge, or GCC for short. In the competition, employees from each company organized into small teams of five or so people. They then each wore a pedometer to track the number of steps they took during the course of the day, recording that along with any exercise they hopefully have done. This resulted in a friendly competition to see who could do the most to increase their activity, given that a sedentary lifestyle will kill you.

How sitting kills you infographic
INFOGRAPHIC: Sitting is Killing You (source: www.medicalbillingandcoding.org)

Now, I take all statistics with a grain of salt, but I knew the principle behind the research was sound. Between my professional life and hobbies, I spent way too much time sitting and could personally witness to the cumulative negative effects that resulted. During the GCC, I tried standing at my desk, and while it was nice to change my position more often, I got bored and felt it did not make a drastic difference.

To top off the situation, I didn’t realize it at the time, but I went through a bout of depression mainly due to stresses from multiple sources in my work environment. I think depression can often go unrecognized in many contexts. In my case, I felt like I had no business feeling sad because I had so many wonderful things in my life to be grateful for. So what if I wasn’t entirely happy at work? At least I have a job right now and should be grateful for that instead of complaining. So what if I wasn’t feeling fulfilled? I have a wonderful wife, great children, and friends. I should be grateful to even have them in my life, so I should just suck it up, put my head down, and get to work. I mean, there are so many people in worse circumstances than myself, what right do I have to feel depressed?

But I suppose depression isn’t rational, so silly me for trying to rationalize my way out of it. A few things happened in rapid succession that got me going again. I came across this article on proven ways to live a happier life. At the same time, the fitness center at work introduced a Get Fit Before Fiscal Year-End program to incentivize more employees to get just a little bit healthier. Combined with my past experience in the GCC and the current work situation, I felt this was the perfect time for an experiment that I had long wanted to try out: walking while working.

The Tests and First Impressions

Before I sunk too much money into my own equipment, I started out simple. I packed up my laptop, went down to the company gym, and checked out the machines there. Adobe didn’t skimp on the equipment:

Life Fitness 95t
Life Fitness 95t

I noticed some level points of contact that could easily prop up a laptop, and so the first day that’s how I worked. I posted my feelings on Facebook after the first day and received a lot of encouragement to keep going. I felt like I could work through the afternoon slump much better than sitting through it. I had more energy, and my friends wanted to know how much exercise I was actually getting in. So I dug through my GCC equipment and put on one of their pedometers for Day 2. Three and half hours on the second day help my total step count run up to about 19,000. I was super excited by that result, but some of my friends couldn’t visualize what I was doing, so on Day 3 I took and posted a picture of my setup:

Picture of laptop on treadmill
Walking While Working, Day 3

The only problem I had up to this point was a little wobbling when typing on the keyboard, so I ordered a SurfDesk from Amazon to see if that might help me secure the laptop a bit better. While I couldn’t use it in any standard configuration, it definitely helped when I tried it on Day 4, and by the end of that workweek, I was convinced and converted into doing this on a more regular basis.

Treadmill with Surfdesk
SurfDesk Setup

Since I work at home from time to time, it wasn’t long after this that I wanted to duplicate the setup at home, and while there was no way I was going to buy a $5,000 machine like I have at the office, I didn’t need anything special as I planned on only walking at a speed between 2-3 miles per hour. I found a much more affordable and relatively portable walking Weslo Cadence treadmill on Amazon, and two days later (thanks Prime!) I had my own machine setup in my front room. The SurfDesk easily attached to the Cadence, but while the screen was at the right height, the laptop’s keyboard was much too high to be comfortable for continuous typing. I looked into buying a treadmill desk, but most of them were too expensive for me to consider seriously. So I took some leftover fiberboard and wood, then I crafted a makeshift platform that straddled the sidebars at the right height so I could do the same thing.

Walking at Home Setup
Walking at Home Setup

Now, whether I’m working or enjoying my hobbies, on the weekend or a weekday, I’m walking whenever I’m using a computer. I’ve even played video games while walking, and I’m loving it!

Data and Results

My average steps per day have increased from the 3,000 range to well over 20,000. That’s easily ten miles a day that I wouldn’t have walked otherwise. For the Get Fit Before Fiscal End program, I had weight and baseline tests recorded. I’m not doing anything different from my diet or other daily routine. I’m simply walking whenever I happen to be using a computer. While the program hasn’t ended yet and I don’t have the final results, I have already lost eight pounds so far!

Step Counter App Screenshot
Step Counter

There are a few drawbacks of course. I’d love to be able to walk while working from my desk at the office, but I am sure Adobe and my cubicle neighbors would not appreciate that so much. It does translate into a little more inconvenience at work, but it’s perfectly manageable. There’s also the obvious lack of real estate compared to a sitting desk, but in some ways that turns out to be a benefit as it forces me to not clutter up my work area and focus on more important things. Last but not least, I do wonder about the impact stress of walking so much more and how that might affect me down the road, but the way I see it, the human body was designed more for walking and less for sitting. In any case, I am definitely happier and healthier as a result of this experiment so far. I like finding small ways I can change my daily routine to make a bigger impact on my life. It’s much more feasible for me to establish healthier habits that way instead of trying to enact a drastic change in my schedule. I plan to do this for many years to come.

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Tech Lover, Violin Maestro, Mandarin Chinese speaker, and a Web Analytics ninja warrior! My thoughts are my own, so please don't assume otherwise.