Carleton University cognitive science professor Jim Davies, director of the Science of Imagination Laboratory and the author of Riveted: The Science of Why Jokes Make Us Laugh, Movies Make Us Cry, and Religion Makes Us Feel One with the Universe, had never used a treadmill desk before he built one about two years ago. “I decided I wanted one,” he says, “and just made it.” Davies, whose TEDx Talk explores the mistakes people make when imagining their future, found a used treadmill online for $200, watched a how-to video on YouTube, made the desktop himself with scrap wood from home, and bought a large flatscreen TV to make it easier to read and write while standing a couple feet away from the monitor. “If people want to try this, they should start cheap,” he advises. “Used treadmills are easy to buy, like crockpots; they’re ambitious purchases.”
Since he started walking while working in his office on the 22nd floor of Carleton’s Dunton Tower, overlooking Ottawa’s Rideau Canal and the Central Experimental Farm, the self-proclaimed early adopter of productivity tools has found that treadmill time keeps him from getting sleepy, keeps him warm, provides decent exercise — and, conversely, makes for a good napping platform when he lays a mattress on top. Davies also has a traditional sit-down desk in his office, and hasn’t noticed any difference in terms of how he works whether he’s walking or sitting. “Although if I’m feeling sluggish,” he says, “the treadmill will often help me perk up.”
There is research, of course, that quantifies some of the benefits of walking, including this British study that “had dozens of students study 30 nouns, each displayed for six seconds. Some of the students went for a ten-minute walk before being presented with the words. They were told to adopt ‘the walking speed one would use when late to an appointment, but without the anxiety caused by such a scenario.’ Other students spent the same time sitting quietly looking at pictures of natural landscapes. After the study phase, some of the students went for another ten-minute walk before attempting to recall as many of the words as they could; other students sat quietly for ten minutes before their recall attempt…. The key finding is that those students who went for a walk before the study period recalled 25 per cent more words correctly compared with students who sat still before the study period.”
This research doesn’t speak to the cognitive or creative properties of treadmill walking and working — or, as I like to say, warking (or wolking). So, if anybody out there wants to design a study, this turf is there for the taking.