Every so often, a tech product comes along that has the potential to change your life. Not in the way people say a smartphone or tablet changes their lives, but literally — remove pounds, increase energy, maybe add years to your life expectancy — all during your working hours.
We speak of the LifeSpan DT, one of the first mass-market entries in a relatively young category of gadget: the treadmill desk. We hope these things become commonplace, because the DT’s current cost on the LifeSpan website, even with discount, is $1,299.
That’s a lot of scratch. But what you get for it is the ability to shed calories slowly and consistently, almost without realizing it.
For the past two months, both of Mashable‘s main offices (in New York and San Francisco) have been working on a pair of these treadmill desks, testing them pretty much constantly. While there were some essential differences in the way we use them — it won’t surprise you to learn that the New Yorkers tend to walk faster — both offices can recommend them, with some important caveats.
Let’s back up for a second and look at the science behind treadmill desking. You may have seen the mounting evidence that suggests sitting for long periods of time is bad for you. It cuts vital enzymes and good cholesterol, among other things.
Slump in that chair for more than six hours a day, numerous studies have found, and you’re 40% more likely to die in the next 15 years — even if you exercise at other times.
Some might decide to opt for a standing desk. Nothing wrong with that; we’ve enjoyed standing desks here at Mashable too. But we found a tendency to slump while using them, to rest on an elbow or a foot against the wall — to do anything, in short, other than stand straight.
Besides, if you’re going to stand up, why not walk — and gain all of the health benefits associated with walking? (If you don’t know what those benefits are, here’s a quick PSA from the cast of the West Wing.)
The value proposition of a treadmill desk is pretty simple: you burn more calories while doing things (working on your computer, answering phones) you had to do anyway.
The LifeSpan treadmill desk’s default setting is an extremely leisurely 0.5 miles an hour, a pace that many of us found almost uncomfortably slow. Even at that tortoise speed, you’re burning roughly 200 calories an hour more than you would have done sitting.
Which means that by lunchtime, you’ve got an extra 600 calories to play with. Go hog-wild and order the large fries! We’re kidding, of course — no amount of treadmill desking is going to change the fact that the kind of calories you put in your body still matters. But whatever your lunchtime food choice, if you have less than 600 calories of it, you’re effectively losing weight already.
The LifeSpan’s maximum speed is 4 miles an hour, but you’re not going to want to get anywhere near that. Sorry, gym rats, this isn’t a running desk. Go above 2 miles an hour and you’re going to find it hard to type or use your mouse without tripping over (there’s a safety clip, as you would expect, that stops the belt should you do so).
Roughly a mile per hour, or 1.5 mph, seems the sweet spot. Remember, the goal is to burn calories constantly at a comfortable pace, not sweat out your shirt and stink up the office.
The desk itself is solidly constructed, with a large and comfortable wrist guard and a huge laminate surface. We found we could comfortably fit a laptop, an external monitor, a phone, a pile of copy paper, and still have space left over for plenty of gadgets. The controls, right below the wrist guard, are very easy to access and hard to press by accident. Our one beef with the UI: when you “pause” and “play” the desk, it returns to the tortoise-slow default speed.
The steel frame is very robust, and the shock-absorbent treadmill belt is quiet enough that you won’t trouble your co-workers, even if they are sitting right next to it. And they can sit close to most of it — you’re going to want a good 10 feet of space lengthways to fit the treadmill part plus clearance, however.
You can adjust the height of the desk to suit the height of just about any worker, but doing so is a pain (you’ll want to take everything off the desk and get someone to help you lift it; constructing the desk in the first place will go a lot faster with helping hands, as well). This isn’t something you’ll want to fix on a whim so your taller (or shorter) friend can work there for a few minutes.
And rest assured, they will want to try it. Nothing guarantees a great slack-jawed gawp from visitors, both offices can confirm, more than a treadmill desk. What they all want to know is: can you really work on that thing all day?
The answer is yes, if you’re prepared. A monitor will need a booster of some sort to make it eye-level, which is essential while walking. Comfortable shoes are important, naturally. As are — there’s no delicate way to put this — pants that won’t chafe.
Some of our writers find they can’t write on deadline while walking; they simply pause the machine and briefly turn it into a standing desk.
I wouldn’t say this is something you can, or should, keep up five days a week. Any form of exercise, even very mild, is exhausting past a point. There have been days when no one in either office can face another hour on the machine. (It’s the same case at Facebook HQ, apparently; when I visited for a tour earlier this year, not one of the thousands of workers occupied the treadmill desk room.)
But the early treadmill desk adopters, in our experience, are the ones who will keep returning to it. With us, I think, it’s like a switch has flipped in our minds. We relish walking while working, working while walking, especially when placed next to a great view of your city (as both Mashable offices are blessed with). We see stuff with a little more clarity, much the way things usually get sorted in your head during a long stroll.
Perhaps the only office critic of the treadmill desk has been Franklin — one of Mashable‘s delightfully enthusiastic (and protective) pups. Reports Samantha Murphy, New York-based treadmill desker extraordinare: “Our furry friend likes to bark and bark (and bark) when he passes the treadmill desk area, looking at the device as though it’s a strange monster kidnapping innocent walkers.”