Op/Ed

Jessie Raymond: New desk redefines ‘walk to work’

I have a new home office setup, and I don’t want to sound dramatic, but it has changed my life.
It all started last week when, after six months of working from home with no end in sight, I finally decided to create a dedicated work space. I had been switching between sitting in a hard chair at the kitchen table and sitting on the couch, if only to mix up which parts of my body hurt at any given time.
I was turning into a chiropractic case study.
On Saturday, I set up a table in our bedroom and brought a proper chair home from the office. Good height. Lots of natural light. A view of the chickens in the backyard.
But I still wasn’t comfortable.
Unlike my husband, who, as a contractor, has spent every day for the past 40 years climbing and crawling and lugging and reaching and bending and kneeling, my job requires only sitting — and, of course, staring at a computer screen.
It’s torture. 
The older I get, the less appealing I find staying in any one position for long. My back gets tired, my hip joints get stiff, my legs ache.
If you want a laugh, watch me get up after sitting cross-legged on the floor for 10 minutes. The way I make orangutan noises and lurch around, you’d think I’d just been pulled out of an overhead bin after a transatlantic flight.
But even sitting in a well-designed office chair for any length of time is rough on my body. 
A breakthrough came last week, when I saw an online article about DIY treadmill desks.
“Mark!” I said. “How cool would it be if I could walk while I’m working on the computer?” 
He looked at me from his recliner, where he goes each evening to recover from eight hours of vigorous not-sitting, and rolled his eyes.
I ignored him.
Luckily, our bedroom already contained that staple of American home décor, an unused treadmill. With a pair of woodworking clamps, I secured an old board across its arms, added an overturned shallow wooden box to get the right height and placed my computer on top.
The hardest part of the setup was putting away the clothes that had been draped across the console. (On the bright side, most of them were now back in season.)
I began walking, aiming for a pace that was fast enough to keep my legs busy but not so fast that I’d trip and end up in a heap five feet behind the treadmill. I started with a contemplative speed, something suitable for a monk with no appointments on his calendar.
It was too slow; I started feeling that same frustration I get when I’m at the mall and a clump of tweens impede my path to Cinnabon. So I accelerated a bit to the purposeful but still casual pace I might set if I were trying to nonchalantly escape a crowd of zombies who hadn’t noticed me yet.
It was just right. And my back and hips and legs felt good. 
But here’s the dramatic, life-changing part: With the treadmill channeling my excess physical energy, my brain kicked into action. I was instantly focused on my work. 
For the first time ever, I understood: My problem isn’t just sitting; it’s sitting still. I’ve always liked to stay busy, but I thought it was because I’m so darned industrious.
Nope. I’m just restless. 
My brain, it appears, can’t settle unless I’m moving, and in the treadmill desk, I have found a full-body fidget spinner. My attention span now goes from chicken to chess master with the press of the start button.
So for the past week, I’ve been alternating work time on the treadmill with desk time and Zoom meetings. I haven’t tripped even once, and my concentration levels are at an all-time high. 
Normally at the end of the workday, I’m tired — not physically, but the kind of tired you feel after a long car ride. Now, I feel refreshed, not fuzzy headed.
Mark came home yesterday and found me plodding away on the whirring treadmill. I was engrossed in a project for work — or, as he calls it, “work” — but out of the corner of my eye I saw him shake his head and laugh.
I wouldn’t expect him to understand; he has no idea what it feels like to sit for an hour, much less a whole day, at work.
Not all of us are as lucky as he is.

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