When you live as far north of equator as I and all the rest of Maine does, you have to learn to both roll and contend with the winters that accompany it.
During this time of year the days steadily grow shorter and darker, and despite all the shifts that are coming with climate change they continue to follow the predictable course of steadily become colder.
With this seasonal shift there often also comes a predictable decline in general activity, and once the ice hits and the reliable sidewalks disappear that mild drop often becomes a big one.
And the biggest drop in general activity that most of us will experience seems to be in our steps.
We still do the dishes, the laundry, and we still get the groceries and take the trash out…but overall we tend to walk a lot less.
And while that is understandable, all of us tend to understand that this is a problem.
Despite that the parking happens, and at some point in the coming month or two, most us of will begin to feel the effects of this sizable drop in general activity… and we will seek ways to reverse that trend. For the person that enjoys walking or running during the majority of the year, they are going to seek ways to make that happen during these less hospital months.
Enter the treadmill…arguably the most popular piece of exercise equipment in the Western World, you would be hard pressed to find a commercial gym, hotel or suburban block that does not have one.
The thing is though…treadmills are terrible.
They really are.
In fact, if you yourself own a treadmill the best advice I can give is this…
Put it up for a decent price on Craigslist, with a fair warning to the unknowing future buyer that they are making an investment against their health and wellbeing…and when you do sell it to that poor soul, take the proceeds and go out and buy some well fitting, insulated and waterproof clothing.
So you can go outside, regardless of the time of year…and go for a walk.
Now if and as that little voice in you starts rising up to make a case about how you perhaps do not like the cold, it is good to know there is a very commonplace and often repeated saying in Sweden on that very subject. When roughly translated it goes something like… “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing“.
No, treadmills will not likely poison you, and they are not likely to give you a terminal illness by simply stepping on them.
But they do rob you of many crucial benefits that walking and running can give us all.
How exactly do they do this?
Well, a small part of it is due to there being a slight difference in the way muscles work while we are walking or running on a treadmill. After all, forward moving gait requires you to actually move yourself forward.
A lot of it though has to do with gait being largely visually driven…and a treadmill completely interferes with that.
This is because the main visual driver of gait is the sense of the world moving past us as we move forward in it.
This is the normal experience of upright human gait.
In fact, before treadmills, this experience was all we knew when it came to walking or running.
We go forward, and the world moves past us.
Now this experience of the world moving past us as we are moving forward within it is called Optic Flow. In fact, it has been heavily studied, and it turns out that the experience of optic flow is something that is extremely important for us all to experience every day of our lives.
Because the perception of the world moving past us as we are moving forward in it seems to be one of the more significant ways in which any and all of us can relax.
As human beings we have deep breaths to calm ourselves, and long walks to shake it out…and sort it out.
How this works seems to be very similar to how the lateral eye movements of EMDR tend to serve those have benefitted from it. The perception of the world going past us as we move forward has the same effect as moving your eyes back and forth laterally… it down regulates our amygdala. This is the stress center of the brain, which while very useful needs to be turned of as often and easily as it is turned on.
So, optic flow is a pretty big deal… and on a treadmill there is an absolute lack of it.
So, I am here to tell you that in our screen filled, tunnel visioned, environmentally controlled modern day first world society…treadmills are the last thing you want to be doing when you are trying to care for yourself.
Now, if all this does not seem to move you to grab a jacket, a pair of wool socks and some mittens so you can reap the benefits of engaging in one of the more basic functions of a human being…then consider the fact that the treadmill was originally invented as a torture device.
Yes…you read that correctly.
In the great year of 1817 a British engineer invented a mill that men in penal colonies could stand and walk on as form of hard labor. At the time it was thought that the “idle-ness” of prison was a problem, and that the experience of hard labor would reform the individual. Well, good ideas can often times turn out to be terrible ones… and this was just that.
While the pace was not severe, when you take into account that many of these treadmills had partitions fitted around them to isolate the prisoner, and that they would be forced to walk for six hours at minimum a day… you may have an idea of why this form of punishment was eventually banned in the UK in 1902.
They decided it was far too cruel…
Now, chances are you or someone you love may be one of the many that either owns a treadmill yourself, or simply may tend to frequent them during these darker and colder months. If you find yourself part of that crowd, or if you are looking to understand a bit more about why I recommend avoiding treadmills in favor of walking and running outside…then I encourage you to click on the link below. It will take you to a 12 minute video where I go into just that…and more.
If you have any questions about the above, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Regardless, I hope you find the above helpful, and I hope you are comfortable, able and well.