Lured by endless videos of super-productive women strutting while they type, I bought myself an under-desk treadmill to see if it was really worth the faff.

At the risk of showing how the (veggie) sausage is made, here’s a spoiler: I’m typing this while walking. It’s just before lunchtime, and my Fitbit tells me I’ve walked 14,323 steps today thus far. Well over the 10,000 steps target I strive for each day, but I don’t feel like slowing down. 

I’m not telling you this as a mega brag about how much I’ve accomplished today, or to show off how fit and healthy I am (because, as anyone who’s witnessed me take the lift up two flights of stairs can attest, I am certainly not the pinnacle of wellbeing). Instead I’m sharing this because I can put my rising step count down to one tweak to my routine, and it’s something that’s changed my life in so many good ways that I now recommend it to everyone. 

That tweak is – drum roll – getting myself a fold-away treadmill and a standing desk. 

As with so many of my big life decisions in recent years, the choice to buy both of these items came about as a result of TikTok. Day in, day out, I was served up videos of glossy women working from home, sipping aesthetically pleasing iced lattes, and striding on walking pads as they typed. At first, I thought this was just another silly internet trend in which attractive people pretend to love something expensive so they can get some sweet affiliate earnings. Surely no one’s actually doing this, I told myself. And anyone who buys one of those walking pads will soon be leaving it in the corner of a cupboard to gather dust.

But I kept seeing those videos. And I kept noticing how my legs ached at the end of each sedentary day at my desk; how I balked at the prospect of any walk Google Maps said would take over seven minutes. My movement levels had seen a serious dip in the pandemic, then got hit again when I moved back in with my parents in Enfield and could no longer cycle to work. On the early shift at 6am at my old job, I got a free car ride to the office at 4am, then spent hours at my desk, getting up only to make cups of tea or nip to the loo. 

At the end of each shift, I’d get multiple trains back home, eagerly snatching up a seat whenever one was available, then get back to my room and collapse into bed, exhausted, until morning came and the routine started again. In short: I was spending most of my time sitting or lying down, and my restless energy, heaving breath and low mood were all evidence that this wasn’t doing me any good. 

Some big life changes allowed me to break out of the cycle. I moved into a house with my partner and got a new job, which brought with it a shiny new commute back on my bike, 40 minutes each way. But there was another change: while my old role had meant going into the office most days, this job asked for one to two days in person each week. Plus, the new house actually had space for an office room. 

That meant no more working on the sofa while my boyfriend commandeered the desk. In fact, I could create my own ideal working space. Browsing laptop stands, keyboards and pen pots, I was hit by a thought: maybe I could be one of those people I saw on TikTok. Maybe I could be a treadmill-while-working person. 

I bought an adjustable standing desk from Wayfair, then searched around until I found a treadmill that could be easily folded away when not in use. I ended up going for the WalkingPad, which at the time was on sale and cost me £215 – not cheap by any means, but I told myself that was all the more reason I had to actually use it. 

Some quick pros and cons of this particular model, in case you’re debating buying it. Pros: it’s not as expensive as a lot of the treadmills I found online, it’s held up well to daily use for months now, it’s not too loud, it folds in half so doesn’t take up too much space when not in use, and it has wheels on one end so even someone with limited strength (me) can move it around. 

Cons: it has a weight limit of 100kg, you can’t adjust the incline, and it’s heavy – so if you don’t balance it correctly against the wall it can fall and cause you some bruised knees. It also can’t go above 6km per hour so it’s not for running (fine by me, but might be a dealbreaker for some). 

In short: it does what I need it to do, but doesn’t have any bells or whistles. I don’t mind most of the cons, but I do wish I had the power of incline so I could do 12-3-30. I’ve seen some people hacking their WalkingPads with makeshift blocks, but this doesn’t look entirely safe and so I haven’t tried it. 

Anyway, on to the walking. On day one, I started out super slow and gentle, walking at 2km per hour only when I had to do some reading or email deleting – nothing too laborious. Once I was comfortable with that, I ramped up the speed a little. Then a little more. By the end of the day, any time I had to read anything, I’d unfold the WalkingPad and have a stroll, then be stunned when I looked down at my phone (which I use to control the speed) and saw I’d walked for half an hour without really noticing. 

As the WFH days ticked by, my comfort grew. Soon I was able to type while walking at 4km per hour, so wasn’t just limited to walking when reading. I noticed my Fitbit wasn’t tracking my steps while I did this, because my wrists were still on the desk, so got myself a strap extender and stuck it around my ankle. A few weeks in, I was regularly surpassing my 10k steps goal, and feeling great as a result… apart from the first time I pushed too hard too fast, did 20k steps in a day, and ached the entire next day. I can now comfortably do 20k steps without painful aftereffects, but let this be a vital lesson to any aspiring WFH walkers: build up slowly

An entirely unposed photo…

The movement itself is undoubtedly good for me (I certainly feel fitter, and can now happily walk for an hour without dreading it), but personally, I believe the benefits go beyond the cardio. 

I have long struggled with productivity guilt, which often triggers my depression. I’ll feel like I haven’t done ‘enough’ all day, then sink into low mood, then lose all motivation to do anything at all. A treadmill has not, of course, magically resolved this issue, but it has helped. I’ve found that being able to tick off that 10k step target each day gives me proper evidence that I’m not the lazy, terrible person my brain tells me I am. How can I be, when I’ve clearly accomplished something? I’ve found myself hopping on the WalkingPad when I’m not working, when the Sunday scaries speedily turn into the ‘you’ve wasted your life weekends’, and having a little trot as I watch TV, to know that I’ve done something that feels good. 

I also feel like the act of walking boosts my focus and creativity. When I started walking while working, I told myself I’d always sit down when it came time to do ‘deep’ work, so I could really focus. But recently, I’ve found myself doing some of my best writing while I’m plodding along. The other day, when I was tasked with coming up with some new ideas, I instinctively rolled out the treadmill.

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I think of it a bit like the tendency to pace around as you talk on the phone. Something about keeping your body busy allows your mind to roam a bit more freely, too. It’s as though popping on my trainers and tapping the ‘go’ button oils up my mental cogs and lets them whir along more smoothly. 

It’s been three months since I took the plunge and bought my WalkingPad, and contrary to my cynical expectations, it’s still getting unfolded day in, day out. I’ve said goodbye to hours spent sitting, and, as a result, the aches and pains that I’d accepted as the norm of an office job have disappeared. I’m more active than ever, more productive than ever, and while I’m not going to start filming super-productive 5-9 routine videos for TikTok, I will happily recommend this one change to anyone who wants to up their steps, boost their focus and improve their mood. 

My top tips for the walking-while-working lifestyle

I could go on and on about the benefits I’ve seen from walking while working, but if you’re already convinced, there are some tips I’d recommend bearing in mind before you get strutting along. 

  • Make sure you get a standing desk that’s fully adjustable. Your height will change between standing and walking on the treadmill, so it’s vital you can slightly tweak the height of your desk to match. 
  • You’ll need a laptop stand and keyboard, unless you’ve got a desktop setup. On a similar note to above, save your neck from straining and your wrists from aches by raising your screen to eye level and allowing yourself to type with your arms at a 90-degree angle. 
  • If you wear a Fitbit, strap it to your ankle. When your wrists are stable on the desk, your steps might not be counted. 
  • Go super slow and build up speed. At first, typing and walking will feel near-impossible. Start off annoyingly slow to get used to it, then gradually build up your speed to your normal walking pace. 
  • Get yourself a nice cup or bottle with a straw. I don’t know about you, but I find it very difficult to sip from a mug while walking, which has resulted in some spills. 
  • Check your treadmill desk etiquette. Some people will find your bobbing around on the screen super distracting. Before you join all meetings while walking, check that the people you’re chatting to don’t mind. 
  • Make sure you take breaks. It’s easy to get so into the motion of walking that before you notice it, you’ve been on your feet for hours. You need to have physical and mental rest time. 

Images: Stylist

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