A strange side effect of the pandemic year has been the gradual, reluctant adjustment “ to a new normal.” Things that would’ve seemed absurd a year ago now seem ordinary: approximating a birthday party over Zoom, covering your face in public, turning the kitchen table into a home office, or greeting loved ones with that weird ghost-hug gesture to maintain 6 feet of distance. It’s strange, but not surprising, how quickly you can get used to things.
Much of my “new normal” has involved moving my inside life outdoors and my outside life indoors. Dinner parties are now picnics, but my office is contained within my apartment. I meet up with friends for weekend hikes but see the doctor for virtual visits through my phone. The most ridiculous example of this is probably that I have now replaced my commute, and the ancillary exercise of being a person in a city, with a miniature treadmill that I walk on throughout every workday. A year ago, the image of myself marching on it from my makeshift “home office” would have seemed like a joke. Now, it seems like a very nice part of my day.
At first, the reasons for buying a tiny treadmill were practical. I wanted to revive my step count, which used to reflect a life of urban splendor but now reflected the laps I took between the bed, the refrigerator, and the dining table turned desk. I channeled visions of Steve Jobs, who liked to take his meetings while strolling around Apple’s campus in Cupertino, and Joanna Coles, who famously ran Cosmopolitan from the treadmill desk in her office, further intimidating colleagues by walked on it in heels. Nellie Bowles, a reporter for The New York Times, described her working life on a treadmill desk as “ideal” in 2018. I imagined how accomplished I would feel after a day of walking, knowing that I had collapsed hours of exercise into the workday.
Like Bowles, I opted for a portable model, designed specifically for walking. (Coles used a standard treadmill, the kind you can jog on.) The WalkingPad A1 Pro is about 4 feet long and 2 feet wide. You can fold it in half, and it’s still short enough to fit under a couch. That’s an advantage over a full-capacity treadmill, as is the price: Mine came in just under $600. It has no handlebars. A miniature remote controls its speed, which maxes out at 3.75 miles per hour—about the pace of a speed walk. I slid it under a standing desk and stepped on.