Good Life

Treadmill desks help students balance mind and body

Two treadmill desks have been added to the area just outside of the White Building Fitness Center at University Park.
Two treadmill desks have been added to the area just outside of the White Building Fitness Center at University Park. psheehan@centredaily.com

First, it was whistle while you work — and now walking is being thrown into the mix.

This semester, two treadmill desks were added to the area just outside of the White Building Fitness Center at University Park. The idea, in both concept and execution, is about as simple as it sounds. Picture a Centaur, only with more educational value.

At its head, the machine is all business, a long, flat surface ideal for reading a textbook or reviewing notes. The bottom half is constructed for speed — or at the very least a brisk walk — the same variation on the human hamster wheel that is easily accessible at most gyms.

The end result accommodates the modern preoccupation with multitasking, a hallmark of the same culture where portable technology has made it possible to get a haircut, check your email and buy a sweater all at the same time.

On college campuses, schedules packed tight with classes, coursework and extracurricular activities make doing two things at once more practical than parlor trick, especially when it comes to physical fitness.

“If they can do something that fits into their schedule, then why wouldn’t they do it?” said Katie Jordan, vice president of the University Park Undergraduate Association.

It was some variation on that question that UPUA presented to Laura Hall, Penn State’s senior director of campus recreation, who was able to secure the treadmill desks — free of charge— for a six-month trial period.

A creative approach to student fitness made sense to her, as did the connection between mind and body. Hall also valued the opportunity to work with UPUA, who she views as a conduit to the undergraduate community.

“This is student-generated ideas at their best,” Hall said.

Response to the treadmill desks has been generally positive, but a final grade won’t be available until the end of the semester, when Hall reviews how much use the machines have received.

The experiment’s ultimate success may not be measurable in miles.

“ ‘I exercised today and I feel so good’ — you hear that over and over again,” Jordan said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

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