Friday, April 10, 2009

Programming at 1.2 MPH

No, not my typing speed but how I actually work. I've assembled my workstation over a treadmill and I walk (all day) while programming at my day job. I'm fortunate that I telecommute so I didn't have to ask permission. After doing this since October 2008, I'd have a hard time going back to a regular desk.

This is my desk (more on how it was made, how fast I walk, etc later in the post):
So how did I come to walk while working? When I was 27 I hurt my back weight lifting and every once in a while if I do something stupid it bothers me. But over the last couple of years I've noticed my back getting more and more sore sitting at work all day - the price I pay for loving programming computers.

To alleviate the pain, I started using really expensive ergonomic chairs and active sitting on a yoga ball (which were 1/10th the price of the chairs and usually better for my back). But this just delayed the soreness. I was considering trying to get work to setup a sit-to-stand workstation so I could vary the position more and once I started working from home looked more seriously into it.

Around December 2007 I learned about Dr. James Levine, M.D. and his colleagues in the NEAT (Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis) lab at Mayo Clinic proposing that the office of the future should have people walk while working by placing their desk over a treadmill and slowly walk away the day. Made a whole lot of sense to me once I looked into it, humans are after all designed to walk and not to sit (or we wouldn't need those fancy ergonomic chairs). He has a book called Move A Little Loose A Lot (which just came out and I haven't read) should you want more information from the source. Dr. Levine, I thank you for the inspiration.

From an article about Dr. Levine's research I found several articles, others that had set the plan in motion, and eventually that even the office furniture maker Steelcase was making one (called the Walkstation; which is to pricy for me). I also found the Office Walkers Social Network. Despite all the information at my fingertips, job changes and general procrastination caused me to take until October 2008 to build my walkstation and begin using it.

These are the components and prices of my desk (which totals out at $1476, not cheap but much less than other commercial versions):
  • ProForm 11.5 Competitor Treadmill $800 New. You want a good sized walking surface so you don't fall off. This treadmill is 20"x60" tread; 3hp continuous motor. I took off the arms and console so I could mount the desk over it.
  • GeekDesk Adjustable Height Desk Frame $634
  • 75"x30"x3/4" Birch Plywood $30. Sanded and beveled the corners myself.
  • Polyshade Stain and Polyurethane Sealant $12. Gave the top a nice look with improved water resistance and durability
Since October 13, 2008 I have walked 566 miles while programming, designing, talking on the ant phone. I walk 1.2 miles an hour which is much slower than my normal walking pace but sustainable without making my head bob around and doesn't effect my work. It took a few weeks of walking an hour at a time and to get up to where I walk pretty much all day now - sometimes I forget to start it, or get lazy and work from a chair, but I walk from 5-10 miles a day every work day.

Weight didn't drop off me like I dreamed, but my weight did stabalize while eating more and I started to feel better. I was more energized and alert. Employers/workers consider this benifit even if you don't consider the overall health impact - you are more alert while walking and it is impossible to fall asleep while doing so.

I was able to cut out caffine from my diet (almost unheard of for a steretypical developer I know) and still had energy to spare. When work had a social gathering at Adobe MAX 2008 (we all telecommute) which included a quadathalon of death (paint ball, hiking, biking, kyacking) I did it without dying.

More offices should be setup like this. Changing how we work to something more active could reshape the waistline of workers everwhere and make us so much healthier (and with improving how we eat reducing health care costs, reversing the obesity epidemic, etc).

But still my weight remained stable, so obviously somthing more was needed...

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