Writing at .7 MPH

I predict that this essay will take a bit less than a mile and a bit more than 90 calories to write.

To explain: I'm writing this piece while strolling on my treadmill. As part of my new book, Drop Dead Healthy, which chronicles my quest to be as healthy as humanly possible, I joined the small but growing club of treadmill desk devotees. I perch my laptop (a bit precariously, I must admit) on top of my treadmill's display panel, and tap tap tap away as I walk at a molasses-like .7 miles per hour.

I do this because of the alarming number of studies that say that extended sitting is terrible for your heart. As in eating-Paula-Deen-bacon-doughnuts terrible.

At first, I thought treadmill writing would be distracting. But it's actually easy (and believe me, I am far from coordinated). It's also strangely energizing: walking raises your brain's serotonin level, which helps with focus.

I can't yet tell if my walking is affecting my writing. Do these sentences feel more kinetic? I'll leave that for you to judge.

Lest you think that vertical writing is a trendy phenomenon, the debate goes back at least as far as Nietzsche, who attacked Gustave Flaubert for writing in a seated position. "The sedentary life is the very sin against the Holy Spirit," roared Nietzsche. "Only thoughts reached by walking have value."

A full history of un-seated writers can be found in a wonderful essay by author George Pendle in Cabinet magazine. He says that while walking-writers may not have been legion, the standing-writers certainly were. Pendle writes, "such disparate authors as Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll, and Fernando Pessoa all wrote standing up, while Mark Twain, Marcel Proust, and Truman Capote took the Flaubertian creed to its ultimate extent by writing while lying down."

I imagine there will always be passionate defenders of both positions. For me, it's a matter of taste. I would gently suggest you might want to give standing or walking a try, either for reading or writing. But if you find it unpleasant, please have no guilt in reconnecting with your chair. Some of the world's greatest literary lights were butt-bound.

By the way, this took three-fourths of a mile, in case you were wondering. --A.J. Jacobs, author of Drop Dead Healthy (Simon & Schuster)

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