Beth Odence pretty much lives in front of her computer. So when she recently turned on Good Morning America and saw James Levine, a Mayo Clinic endocrinologist, showing Diane Sawyer how to simultaneously walk on a treadmill and type on a computer, she was intrigued.
Levine believes a key difference between those with weight problems and those without is the amount of nonpurposeful—yet still calorie-burning—exercise they get as part of their daily routines. Since for many of us, the daily routine includes lots of tush-in-the-chair time, he developed a workstation mounted above a slow-moving treadmill—first on his own, then in conjunction with office furniture seller Steelcase.
Odence, however, wasn't willing to shell out the $4,000 that Steelcase charges for its unit. (The product is aimed at corporate buyers.) She and her husband ginned up their own version in their basement in Lincoln, Mass., creating a shelf for her laptop with a two-by-four. In her first week on the machine, she lost almost 5 pounds—burning 700 or so calories at a clip.
She's not alone. Joe Stirt, an anesthesiologist in Charlottesville, Va., has been working and walking for three years, chronicling his activities on his blog, BookOfJoe.com. "I used to do eight to 10 hours a day, and now I'm at about five to six hours," he says, adding that when he's on the phone, he occasionally walks backwards to give his hamstrings some exercise. "I'd be very unhappy without it."
To set up your own walking workstation:
Consider an inexpensive treadmill. Even a basic model should be sturdy enough if you aren't going to use it for running, says Levine. He built his prototype using a $300 treadmill from Sears.
Find technical help online. Sites like WalkingWhileWorking.com offer tips.
Go slow. It's hard to read, let alone type, when you're bobbing up and down. Levine recommends a pace of 0.7 mph.
Make sure you're comfortable, advises Jeffrey Katz, a Harvard rheumatologist who studies ergonomics. Keep your forearms parallel to the floor, and your eyes level with the middle of the screen.
Start out doing stuff you enjoy, like watching TV or surfing the Internet, says Stirt. As soon as you feel at home on the machine, he predicts, you'll be eager to work on it, too.