Walking the Talk

Nursing professor practices what she preaches by incorporating treadmill into her work space

Story by: Mike Thee
Published: 2014-03-25

Stepping off the elevator onto the third floor of Garrand, Karen Cowgill's office isn't too hard to find. Just follow your ears to the whirring noise on the east side of the building. There you'll find Cowgill working. And walking. At the same time.

You may have read about Cowgill's treadmill desk in a recent Spectator article. The Commons  was intrigued. We had some follow-up questions to ask the assistant professor of nursing, which Cowgill was happy to oblige. She even shared the tale of how she got the treadmill from Mailing Services up to her office, a journey involving a hand cart brought from home, a few timely assists from colleagues, and an air compressor to re-inflate the cart's tires when they went flat. But that's a whole story unto itself.

The Commons:  What prompted you to do this?

Karen Cowgill:  I had been spending hours and hours sitting at my desk. I'd read that prolonged sitting is associated with higher risk of all sorts of things besides the obvious potential for weight gain and injuries-things like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and early death from any cause. So I started setting a timer to remind myself to get up out of my chair every 30-40 minutes and move around, but I didn't stick to it. I had had a standing desk at a previous job, and had heard about treadmill desks, but it wasn't until reading an article in the New Yorker by Susan Orlean last spring that I resolved to "just do it."

The Commons:  On a typical day, how much time do you spend on the treadmill?

Karen Cowgill:  It varies-anywhere from 0 to 6+ hours.

The Commons:  What distance do you typically walk?

Karen Cowgill:  I walk anywhere from 0 to-my current record - 12.91 miles in a day. If I had just had time to walk two-tenths of a mile more that day, I'd have done a half-marathon! Usually I'm happy if I've done at least 5 miles, but some days I'm in too many meetings, and occasionally I just don't feel like walking, though I tend to have more energy and greater focus both on and off the treadmill when I use it. I'm less likely to walk if I'm working on a project that requires spreading out a lot of papers-I don't have the surface area to accommodate them easily. Writing by hand-which I still do sometimes-is also challenging.

The Commons:  Where did you get the treadmill and how did you modify your workspace to accommodate it?

Karen Cowgill:  I bought an Exerpeutic walking treadmill  off Amazon, which cost about $400. The treadmill is not specially designed for work spaces, though those exist-they have a built-in desk space on the railing. Because my existing desk was essentially a countertop, I had to "hack" this treadmill so I could fit it under the counter and keep my computer on the desktop. I also bought some shelving to raise my computer screen to standing level, and I bought an extra pair of walking shoes to keep in the office. Very stylish.

The Commons:  Is it difficult to walk and type at the same time?

Karen Cowgill:  It can be challenging…the mouse is a little tricky, and I've occasionally clicked on the thing next to the thing I wanted to click on! No disasters, though.

KarenCowgillChart_375Since she began using her treadmill desk last summer, Karen Cowgill has been dutifully recording her miles walked and calories burned on this chart that hangs from her office door.

The Commons:  What's your treadmill's max speed?

Karen Cowgill:  4 miles per hour, though 3.5 mph is the fastest I've worked so far.

The Commons:  Do you walk while you're on the phone?

Karen Cowgill:  Yes, but usually at a slower speed (say, 2-2.5 mph). I've also recorded lectures for online classes while walking on the treadmill.

The Commons:  Isn't there a danger that you'll read something that's so shocking that it will literally stop you in your tracks and cause you to be ejected from the treadmill?

Karen Cowgill:  I'm not that easily shocked. Plus, the incline is zero and there's a safety cord, so the chance of injury is  pretty much the same as when you're walking down a hallway.

The Commons:  Have you ever tried working, walking on the treadmill and chewing gum all at the same time?

Karen Cowgill:  Not the gum, but I've always got something to drink (it has to have a lid or a straw to avoid spillage) and often eat lunch while treading. The most challenging maneuver is turning around to see who's at the door…often I'll just hop off and turn off the treadmill if I have a visitor. Oh, and I sit down for meetings.

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Good news for those who want to be active at work, but don't want a treadmill -- check out this under-desk exercycle! http://www.magnetrainer.com/proddetail.php?prod=DeskCycle I'm going to get one for my desk at home. No assembly (or electricity) required, no desk reconfiguration, and you can use it when you feel like it and set it aside when you don't.
(4/3/2014 2:07:14 PM, Karen Cowgill )