Walking the Talk

By Allison J. Cleary

If James Levine has his way, your next desk could be a treadmill.

Q: How has your research changed your own patterns?

I used to walk for an hour at lunchtime every single day. It didn’t matter if I had a meeting, if it was minus-60 outside (as it often is in Minnesota). Now I don’t because I spend my entire day on a treadmill. I have a pair of black running shoes in my office, and as soon as I get to work I put them on. I don’t go home feeling like a sloth, or like I’ve been cheated of my walk.

Q: Until someone manufactures these treadmill desks, can people make their own?

For $50 of wood and screws I built a unit at home. It took two hours and I’m not a whiz.

The way you position the computer is crucial. If you position it at your hip so you have to stoop over it, you go home with back pain. Positioned at eye level, you don’t get back pain, foot pain, you don’t sweat, you don’t have to change your clothes.

Q: You’ve said that “pervasive mechanization” may cost an individual 100-200 calories per day, a deficit that could potentially account for the entire obesity epidemic. But no one will go back to washing clothing by hand.

I’m not advocating that we regress. Humans go forward, we develop. Yet we never move. I see an office building across the street and I know in the middle of the day that they’re all sitting in there. This lack of movement is pervasive, and the most pervasive thing of all is the computer and other screens, nothing but bland workspace. People go home, sit in front of the TV and Internet.

Q: You’re not telling people “Leave your screen,” just make the activity come to your screen?

Right, or associate the screen with the activity. In other words, make it a positive loop. The key thing is that it’s got to be fun, dynamic and make us feel good about ourselves. That’s why it’s going to work, by the way. Put a computer or TV on top of the treadmill, and people will enjoy working and watching TV more while they’re walking.

Q: What about the argument that to be active in this world you need a certain comfort in income?

You don’t need money to walk to church rather than drive, or get off the bus a little bit earlier; you don’t need money to take your boss for a walk—it’s not money related. It’s “Let’s do it.”

Next: James Levine talks about his concern for future generations »

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