I’m probably going to get a lot of emails from angry treadmill enthusiasts, but whatever…treadmills are bogus.
There, I said it.
Are they convenient from time to time? Sure. But I don’t think you should make a habit out of them and I have seven compelling reasons why…
Reason #1: Flat, even terrain atrophies important muscles.
Every day in our domesticated culture we’re navigating flat, even terrain. Sidewalks, paved roads, and indoor spaces.
Here’s the problem: the human foot and ankle structure contains 26 bones (1/4 of the bones in the entire human body); 33 joints; and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments.
The complexity of the lower leg is designed to help us navigate uneven and sloped terrain; to balance; to jump and land; to maneuver dynamically.
And we’re not doing any of that. Walking or running on a treadmill does not engage the complex structure of the foot and ankle in any meaningful way.
If you don’t USE muscles you LOSE muscles. That means that every hour you spend on a treadmill is an hour spent making your feet and ankles weaker, which translates to a weaker movement chain all the way through the hips and lower back.
Reason #2: You’re failing to expose yourself to temperature diversity.
One of the big appeals of treadmills is that they allow you to “work out” in a stable environment. There’s no need to worry about rain, cold, heat, or other “extreme” conditions.
The question is, is it a good idea to avoid these conditions? It turns out, it’s probably not.
In our domesticated world, we live life at a cool 70 degrees because all of our structures are temperature regulated. When we go outside, we wear the the latest technological clothing advancements to make us cozy in the winter and cool in the Summer. There’s no variance.
The surface of your skin has tiny muscles called Arrector pili that are designed to move your hair follicles in response to cold or hot temperatures. What happens if you don’t use these muscles much?
Brown fat is a special type of fat in your body that aids in temperature regulation. It also aids in metabolism and helps you avoid gaining the types of fat you don’t want to have a lot of. But guess what? The only way to keep your brown fat happy is to expose yourself to cold consistently.
Those are just two examples of how our bodies atrophy when we’re not exposed to temperature variations.
There’s a lot of evidence that both extremes of hot and cold have tremendous health benefits that we don’t experience when we’re not thermoregulating. So, get off your treadmill and get your ass outside.
Reason #3: You’re missing the chance to breathe fresh air.
According to the EPA, indoor air contains 2 to 5 times more contaminants—and on occasion, as much as 100 times more contaminants than outdoor air.
That wouldn’t be a problem if we were spending a lot of time outside. But, statistically, we’re not. In fact, the balance of time inside vs time outside is so skewed it’s scary. The average American spends 93% of their time indoors.
If you’re going to be on a treadmill for 30 to 60 minutes, that’s 30 to 60 minutes you’re not spending outdoors, where you could be doing the exact same activity (with exponentially more benefits)!
This time-spent-indoors issue is a crisis. Take EVERY opportunity you get to do something outside and you’ll be much healthier and happier.
Reason #4: Being indoors makes you nearsighted.
As you now know, human beings are spending way too much time indoors. We’re also not moving enough. So the answer is to move more, outdoors. And you can’t do that with a treadmill. Make sense?
So another reason you’ll want to ditch the treadmill and get your butt outside is to save your eyes. Being indoors so much means that we are always focusing on things that are very close to us: computer screens, coworkers, family members, televisions, walls, and so on.
A National Institutes of Health study published in 2009 showed that myopia—nearsightedness—prevalence in the United States increased by 66 percent between the early 1970’s and the early 2000’s. This correlates with the rise in electronics usage and the economic transition to technology-driven jobs, which also puts more people indoors.
This rapid increase in myopia is not surprising because the constant focus on things that are close trains the eyes to achieve efficiency in the activity (and distance) you’re normalizing them to.
In agricultural regions and areas where people spend a lot of time outdoors, myopia levels are relatively low. The more time we spend outdoors, the more we have the opportunity to focus on distant objects. That gives our eye muscles a workout, of sorts, and fulfills our biological need for diversity in everything we do.
Walking—or distance running, yuck—are opportunities for you to get outside and get your vision trained on distant objects. Slaving away on a treadmill keeps your eyes weak.
Reason #5: You can’t improve your Vitamin D levels in a gym.
Vitamin D is a critical hormone for human health. The problem is that an estimated 40-70% of people are deficient.
It’s no surprise to me. With people spending 93% of their time indoors, wearing a lot of clothing outdoors, and lathering themselves in sunscreen when not fully clothed, Vitamin D deficiency is basically asked for.
The only thing you’re soaking up on a treadmill is that God-awful fluorescent lighting.
What you should really be doing is going outside naked. Unfortunately, that’s no longer acceptable. So, at the minimum, ditch the treadmill and get outside for your walks. Get that sunshine on your arms, face, and legs.
For extra credit, take your shirt off. You need solid, unscreened exposure to sunlight on a daily basis or you risk being weak.
Reason #6: Treadmills are the epitome of domestication—like a rat in a wheel.
The closest thing to a human on a treadmill is a rat in a wheel. In a cage.
Even the name should tip you off: “treadMILL.” To mill about, which means “to move around in a confused mass.”
Or you can think of it like a factory mill: a boring, repetitive system designed to do nothing more than burn those little bastards we call calories.
Next time you’re at the gym, just take a step back and watch the treadmill section. Rows of depressed, sweaty people moving in place, staring at walls or screens.
I said a minute ago, “to do nothing more than burn…calories.” Nothing, as in, no enjoyment; no excitement; no love; no passion; no inspiration.
This is not what human movement should be. It’s just a scaled down, hollow replica.
You can do better than that. Don’t participate! Fight back against your domestication.
Reason #7: They’re insanely boring.
I don’t know about you, but every time I’ve stepped on a treadmill, I’ve wanted to kill myself shortly after.
And if there’s one piece of advice I can give you about creating a movement lifestyle, it’s this: don’t do boring shit.
If you hope to maintain a movement practice for the rest of your life, it has to be exciting. You have to look forward to it. That’s what DWYLT is all about.
Maybe you see it differently, but treadmills don’t fit into my lifestyle in any way, shape, or form. I want more dynamic range than that. I want more excitement in my life. I want the world to be my device.
Founder of Rebooted Body and host of The Rebooted Body Podcast. Kevin helps men and women finally get a body and life they love with his unique blend of real food, functional movement, and psychology. To work with him personally, choose a program.