A treadmill is a piece of exercise equipment that has a belt that loops around, driven by a motor. The continuous loop allows a person to walk or run on the treadmill in place.
Treadmills are used mostly for home or gym exercise. More than 50 million people in America use them, a 40% increase over the past 10 years. Some have the treadmills for convenience, so that they can exercise while at home with their children, or while watching their favorite television programs. Others have them as alternatives to outdoor activity when weather keeps them inside. Gym treadmills are used as part of exercisers' aerobic workouts or to warm up before participating in strength training.
The benefits of walking and running have been shown in many studies. When done in moderation, this sort of regular exercise can help keep bones and muscles strong, and burn calories to keep weight in check or help people lose weight, and improve health. Still, many children and adults are inactive and families purchase treadmills to help provide an exercise option at home. Another problem adding to obesity and health problems is that many Americans have jobs that require them to sit at desks and computers all day, and trying to fit in exercise in their spare time. New desks fitted for treadmills help office workers, and even home computer users, walk at slow speeds on their treadmills instead of sitting.
Treadmills have other uses, especially in health care. An exercise stress test is used to check heart function and signs of disease. Physicians strap electrodes on the patient's chest and have him or her walk on a treadmill and then perform an electrocardiogram, or ECG, to measure how the heart performs when under stress, or when pumping to the patient's exercising lungs and muscles. Treadmills may be used in physical or cardiac therapy to help the patient gain back physical or heart function under the direction and watchful eye of the therapist.
Most historians can trace the roots of the treadmill's use with humans to early in the nineteenth century. The idea was meant to teach prisoners not to be idle. Sir William Cubit was the man credited with the invention that saw its way to 44 prisons in England. The British had adopted treadmills to provide hard labor for inmates and to grind grain on some “tread-wheels.” Some American prisons also used the treadmill to work their prisoners, but only from 1822 to 1824. The prisoners had to grind grain on the treadmills for 10 hours a day, with only 20 minutes off each hour. The public could come and watch them from a special viewing house.
For many years, the machines were used only by prisoners and animals (for milling or to power butter churners). The animals walked on an uphill belt set in motion by a series of gears. The mechanics of the treadmill were improved to become devices such as assembly-line conveyor belts. The first medical use of a treadmill was in 1949, when cardiologist Robert Bruce and Dr. Paul Yu of the University of Rochester worked together to develop an early treadmill exercise test. This test has stood the test of time. Though bikes also are used, and the technology is more advanced, the basic stress test is in place 60 years after its invention.
The treadmill allows a user to walk or run in place on the machine on a belt that moves underneath the feet in a continuous loop. The walker or runner sets the belt to a desired speed, usually measured in miles per hour or kilometers per hour. A motor turns the belt; most have 1.5–3 horsepower. Most treadmills go up to a maximum speed of about 10 miles per hour. That equals six minutes per mile, which is a fast running speed. The deck is the main body of the machine, including a frame that supports the belt and the weight of the exerciser. It has to be strong enough to support the walker's weight when he or she is still, but also the shock of the exerciser's weight when moving, much like a shock absorber in a car. Steel frames are much stronger than plastic ones. Rollers turn the belt, and should be large and heavy enough to last for many turns or uses. The belt should be two-ply and strong. Most are 14–24 in. (36–61 cm) wide and about 3.7–5.3 ft. (1.1–1.6 m) long. People who are larger may want a wider belt, but being tall in particular can affect belt size. Tall people have longer stride, or step, lengths and may need longer decks and belts to ensure they do not accidentally step off the back of the treadmill while walking or running. The deck also has arms that come from the front partway down the side so that walkers can hold or grab them when necessary. Most treadmills incline up to 10%, which is enough for most exercisers, although special models may incline up to 15%.
Treadmills typically come with control panels, or electronics. These displays and controls help the user set speed, incline (walking or running at an angle, as if going uphill) and preset programs that can take the user through changing speed or incline options aimed at specific goals, such as burning fat or improving cardiac fitness. Displays show information such as time exercised, time left in a program, calories burned, and steps or miles walked. The control panel also has emergency stop buttons and “keys” that can attach to the walker or runner so that if he or she falls, the key should pull a tripper that stops the belt. Most units also have monitors that the walker can wear, usually on his or her finger, to monitor pulse and heart rate.
Almost every treadmill has some sort of lip to hold a book or magazine and a water bottle holder. Many home models have decks that fold up to move out of the way when not used.
Most treadmills in gyms and newer consumer models come with high-tech tools and perks. For example, many have input jacks for MP3 players. Some gym treadmills have televisions, DVD players, or other media built in to the displays that work with fitness software programs. In fall 2011, a new model announced a Wi-Fi connection that provided routes using satellite technology via the Internet. The model sells for about US$2,000.
The health benefits of walking have been proven in numerous studies. Studies have shown that just an hour of walking a week can reduce risk for stroke, heart disease, and overall cardiovascular disease. The 2008 guidelines on physical activity for Americans suggest at least 2.5 hours a week of moderate-intensity exercise (such as brisk walking). They suggest that more exercise, or exercising at higher intensity, helps even more. A treadmill offers the opportunity to exercise indoors, which can provide convenience and safety for some walkers and runners. Walking also is beneficial to bone and joint disease prevention and treatment, and often is done under the supervision of a doctor or therapist. Patients may be sent home with instructions to begin a walking program and gradually increase their time and speed. A treadmill helps them easily measure both. Treadmill workouts are used to help people manage diabetes, and specially designed treadmills with extra-long decks are used to help people in rehabilitation after strokes or injuries.
There are numerous reasons why people are less active than they should be, but one of the main reasons
is time. A treadmill is one form of exercise that allows people to be at home if they need to stay home, and to perform another task while walking. People who like to watch television can at least do so while moving instead of sitting, which can improve health tremendously. Studies have associated poor health with inactivity. Employers are trying to improve their workers' health. Combining a treadmill and computer workstation gives employees the chance to move while they work instead of sitting for eight or more hours straight. These office walkers walk at speeds from 1 to 3 mph after becoming used to working a computer while walking on the treadmill several hours a day, and burn many more calories than they would sitting. They have specially adapted desks.
Treadmills are the most popular piece of exercise equipment, but also the most dangerous. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 19,000 people visited emergency rooms in 2009 for treadmill injuries, and 6,000 of them were children. The injuries included broken bones, concussions, and amputated fingers. The reason most people are injured is that they become distracted. People who use multimedia, computers, read, or talk to friends and family while on treadmills should be cautious. They should set the appropriate speed and constantly be aware of where their feet are on the deck. Sometimes, when running in particular, the exerciser drifts to the back of the belt. Stepping off the back could cause serious injury. It also is possible to step off the side of the belt. Turning and moving the arms can cause imbalance or inattention to the feet. When entering and exiting the treadmill, the walker always should pause or stop the motor. Hands should always be near the handrail, or one hand on the rail for balance when performing tasks such as drinking, wiping with a towel, or other tasks.
See also Exercising at home ; Walking .
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President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, 1101 Wootton Pkwy., Ste. 560, Rockville, MD, 20852, (240) 276-9567, Fax: (240) 276-9860, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.presidentschallenge.org .
Teresa G. Odle, BA, ELS