Maxed Out: Combining Exercise and Work


Reading time ( words)

Well, I may not be super-healthy, but I am trying. As I pen these words, I am currently walking on (and working at) my treadmill/desk combo.

As you may recall from one of my earlier columns, I recently read a book called Drop Dead Healthy – One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A. J. Jacobs. I love this guy, because he is as kooky as you can get while still hovering on the right side of sanity. Two of his other books I really enjoyed are The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World (in which he describes reading the Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover along with some of the interesting nuggets of knowledge and tidbits of trivia he discovers along the way) and The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (in which he tries to follow ALL of the hundreds of different rules in the Bible, including always telling the absolute truth – you can imagine how that goes down with his wife – and stoning adulterers).

I have to admit that A.J. is one author I would really like to meet. One of the points he makes in "Drop Dead Healthy" is that spending eight hours a day working on a computer without taking any form of break or exercise is just about the worst thing you can do for yourself. One solution is the treadmill desk. The idea is that you spend at least half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the afternoon walking at a leisurely pace (as low as 1 mile an hour, although a little faster is better) while continuing to work.

You can make your own or you can buy one. He made his own, and all credit to him, but I am an impatient man. More importantly, I am an impatient man with a credit card, so I ordered myself a LifeSpan TR1200-DT treadmill desk from Amazon.

Figure 1. The LifeSpan TR1200-DT treadmill desk.

This little rascal is pretty substantial. The desk’s work surface is 46.5" wide x 31" deep, and the height of the desktop can be adjusted from 40" to 56" to support users from 4'10" to 6'8" tall. Meanwhile, the treadmill features a 20" x 56" walking surface and a high torque motor system that is designed to run for hour after hour.

Now, I have to say that you can’t really use this if you are performing activities that require fine motor control – such as creating images in Visio, as I discovered to my cost. But it's easy to answer your e-mails while you walk, which is great for me because I literally receive a couple of hundred emails a day (and that's just from my mom). Also, it's easy to type, as is evidenced by this column.

On the one hand, buying a treadmill desk not cheap (you can make a much more affordable version based on a second-hand treadmill). On the other hand, if it helps me live longer (and healthier), then it would be cheap at twice the price. And, unlike a lot of things I've purchased over the years, when it comes to the treadmill desk, I have never thought to myself, "I wish I hadn’t bought that.”

Also, I keep on receiving affirmation from different sources that this was a good thing to do. Just yesterday while driving home from work, for example, I heard on NPR (National Public Radio) that walking for one hour in the morning and another in the afternoon can increase your lifespan by at least two years.

The great thing is that, since I'm working while I'm walking, I really don’t notice the time going by. Also, this doesn’t consume any of my free time outside of work, which I would rather be using for doing fun things, like eating lots of food and drinking lots of beer (I'm joking…at least about the food).

Having said all this, anything I can do to make this even more fun and/or interesting has to be a good thing, which is why I'm walking from Central Park in New York City to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.

I don’t mean this literally, you understand, although I would love to undertake this walk if I didn’t have to work. What I did was to go onto Google Maps and ask for directions between these two locations. The important thing is to click the "Walking" option, which results in 50 pages of detailed directions. Now, when I'm walking on my treadmill desk I keep track of every step (well, every 0.01 of a mile) I take, and I'm plotting my path as I go. When I pass through a town, I can look it up on the Internet and Google Earth and Google maps. So it's almost like being there, except that I don’t receive any funny looks from people. Even better, I have a friend who works for a big Silicon Valley company that shall remain nameless, and he says that they will fly me out to California at the end of my quest so I can walk the last 4 miles in person. This will be quite a while yet, because the entire route is more than 2,900 miles, but it's great to have a goal.

Can you Smell Something?

This isn’t directly related to my walking activities, but it is still on the topic of health. I was shocked and horrified to discover that practically every commercial antiperspirant deodorant (at least, the ones that work) have aluminum in them. In fact, it's the aluminum that stops you from sweating.

The problem is that some studies have linked this source of aluminum to Alzheimer's, cancer, and a bunch of other nasty stuff (other studies have not shown such a connection, but I tend to the view that it's "better to be safe than sorry"). And it's not just aluminum – it seems the majority of conventional antiperspirant deodorants also contain a smorgasbord of other toxic chemicals, including parabens, propylene glycol, triclosan, and… the list goes on.

Based on this, I ordered something called a Crystal Body Stick, which costs $6.89 from Amazon and is guaranteed to last over a year of daily use. I was really happy about this, until I discovered that what they describe as "natural mineral salts" includes ammonium alum, which – according to Wikipedia – is ammonium aluminum sulfate. Good grief! Can’t we get away from the aluminum?

Happily, one of my friends told me about a natural recipe on the Web that reads as follows: "Take 1/4 cup baking soda, 1/4 cup corn starch, and 1/4 cup coconut oil. Heat over low heat, until the coconut oil melts and the ingredients are combined. Pour liquid into container of your choice (reuse an old stick deodorant container). Let it cool. You can add some essential oil to the mixture if you want some more scent."

I'm going to whip up a batch as soon as I get a chance, and I will report back in a future column. Meanwhile, if you happen to be out and about and you receive a surprisingly strong whiff of coconut, look around, because I might be nearby (if so, you may rest assured that it is never the wrong time to offer me a cold beer).

Until next time, have a good one! 

Clive (Max) Maxfield is founder/consultant at Maxfield High-Tech Consulting. He is the author and co-author of a number of books, including Bebop to the Boolean Boogie (An Unconventional Guide to Electronics) and How Computers Do Math featuring the pedagogical and phantasmagorical virtual DIY Calculator. To contact Max, click here.

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