Novelist Neal Stephenson Describes Spending 416 Days at a Treadmill Desk

PHOTO: This image shows a Trekdesk treadmill desk.trekdesk.com
This image shows a Trekdesk treadmill desk.

Novelist Neal Stephenson has to spend a lot of time at a desk, but that doesn't mean he's sitting still.

Stephenson, author of the New York Times bestseller "Anathem" and considered one of the pioneers of the cyber punk genre, blogged that he's been using a treadmill desk for years, but only recently started logging his mileage in a spreadsheet. Now that he's amassed 416 days worth of data, he said he had some thoughts on it.

"While its beneficial effects certainly outweigh its downside, it would be less than honest to claim that use of a treadmill while working is completely benign," he wrote.

He began experiencing pain in his left leg in the first part of 2014, but he only felt it when he was walking on the treadmill. Walks outside didn't hurt, he said, so he reduced his speed to half a mile an hour.

"I could walk in a normal stride outdoors for many miles without having any trace of this problem, but even a short stint on the treadmill brought it back," Stephenson wrote.

A physical therapist informed him that he was walking too slowly and rocking from side to side, so he's since changed his posture and nearly quadrupled his speed, he wrote.

Recently, Stephenson said he averages about 2.5 to 3 miles a day. He doesn't walk every day, and some days he walks more than 6 miles, according to the graphs he posted.

"People who do this a lot need to pay attention to gait, posture, shoes, and other factors that have a bearing on joint and muscle health," he wrote. "This seems like common sense, but anecdotally I've heard from a number of people who overlooked it."

Still, a little pain shouldn't dissuade people from trying standing desks, said sports medicine expert Rob Truax of University Hospital Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, who hasn't treated Stephenson. He said pain can alert you to a muscle imbalance but doesn't mean you're injured. And a trip to a sports medicine doctor, physical therapist or chiropractor can be a big help.

"Walking is normal. Walking is natural," he said. "We want to avoid telling people, 'Don't engage in normal physical activity.'"

Truax said sitting at a desk eight hours a day can negate conditioning from even an hour of physical activity beforehand. And walking at a pleasant pace for hours on a treadmill can strengthen muscles, improve musculoskeletal endurance, and decrease caffeine intake by keeping you awake, he said.

To start, start slow and only aim to go half a mile or a mile, especially if you're not getting a lot of physical activity beforehand, Truax said. Then increase distance and speed gradually.

Stephenson was not available for comment.