Treadmills are equipment de rigueur at most gyms and in many homes today. But what are treadmill workout benefits? Are they worth the investment? Going by what research suggests, treadmills are versatile and a good way to fit in aerobic exercise. You can run a variety of programs, pick one that suits you, track heart rate, and even play music or watch videos on higher-end models, making workouts less of a drag!
Reasons To Do Treadmill Exercise
1. It is an aerobic exercise: Walking or running on a treadmill is a great form of aerobic exercise. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults aged 18 to 59 must try and get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (like walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise (like running) a week for overall fitness and good heart health.1 This physical activity can help lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels and overall cardiovascular health, prevent bone loss, help with weight loss, and increase muscle strength.
2. It improves mental health: Being physically active doesn’t just improve your physical fitness, it also helps with mental wellness. Exercising on your treadmill could contribute to your aerobic exercise for the week, reducing stress, boosting energy levels, and even helping you sleep better.2
3. It is fun: What’s fun about treadmills is that if you work out at the gym, you get to meet others with fitness goals like yours. At home, you can change up your routine using the treadmill by playing around with incline levels, speeds, and programs. Higher-end models even build in entertainment, allowing you to watch a movie or binge watch a favorite TV show while working out. That helps take the boredom out of working out, if that’s proving to be a hurdle in your fitness.
4. It helps in weight loss: When you run or walk on your treadmill, you also burn calories which can help with weight loss. Walking for half an hour at 3.5 mph can burn just under 150 calories in a 155-pound adult. At a speed of 4.5 mph, that calorie burn rises to 186 per half hour. Run at 5 mph and you will increase the calories burnt to just shy of 300 calories per half hour. Running faster can as much as double that burn.3
If you set your treadmill so it is at an incline of 1 percent or more, you also simulate running outdoors. Increase the gradient further and you increase calorie burn and workout intensity. If you’re walking slowly, a gradient change can cause a big boost in energy expenditure and calorie burn. Adding weights (in this case a vest) when at an incline of 5 to 10 percent can cause significantly higher energy expenditure, as one study demonstrated. The average calorie burn per minute (averaged across vests of 5%, 10%, and 15% of body mass of the women in the study) rose from 3.56 kcal/min at a 0% gradient to 4.93 kcal/min for just a 5% gradient and as much as 6.9 kcal/min for a 10% gradient.4
Treadmill Exercise At Home Or The Gym Or Exercise Outdoors?
Now that it is established that aerobic exercise is something everyone should work into their routine on a regular basis, the question on most people’s minds is what kind of exercise to do. Should you exercise in a treadmill at the gym? Are there benefits to a home treadmill? Or is walking outdoors better?
Health Benefits Of Treadmill Exercise Vs. Walking Outdoors
Walking on a treadmill has several benefits that boil down to convenience and ease. Because the machine is indoors, you can exercise no matter what the weather and with few hurdles to get going.
But what about the health benefits? Research has shown that treadmill walking may actually be superior to walking outdoors if you do it right.
Recovery From Stroke Is Hastened
One study of recovering stroke patients found that exercise on the treadmill helped improve the temporal as well as spatial gait of test subjects better than those who walked outdoors.5
More Calories Are Burned On An Incline
Running on inclines burns more calories than a flat surface. Not everyone lives in an area that has slopes to serve the purpose. On a treadmill, you can alter the incline a little at a time. A 10% incline challenges the average beginner.6
Knee Joints Are Strengthened
Walking on a treadmill on an incline can also help improve knee joint health if you set your incline to greater than 0%. As researchers explain, this reduces the internal knee-abduction moment responsible for cartilage degeneration. In other words, your body should see less cartilage loss over time when you walk on inclines, whether on a treadmill or off, compared to level ground. This makes walking easier on those who are obese or going through rehabilitation as this may reduce the pain of the exercise as well.7 Simply increase the incline by as little as 3 percent and cut the impact by as much as 24 percent, even as you boost intensity.8
Chances Of Injury Are Lesser
On an average for every hundred hours of running, runners experience some injury. An estimated 65% of all runners are injured every year.9 Due to the controlled environment on a treadmill, you are less likely to trip or stumble on some unknown bump or obstacle on the road. While you may still slip on the treadmill, you improve your odds!
Benefits Of Treadmill Exercise At The Gym Vs. At Home
Gyms tend to have higher-end non-folding treadmills that come with a host of add-ons and the latest features. Here are just some things these could include:
- Tabs on heart rate: Heart rate monitors allow you to exercise at your optimal heart rate for maximum calorie and fat burn.
- Greater weight-bearing capacity: Gym treadmills have a higher weight capacity because they are built of sturdier material. So even if you are much heavier than average, you can still use a treadmill to run. Home machines tend to have a lower weight-bearing capacity.
- Scope for longer strides: The bigger machines at the gym also have longer strips to run on, so you can take big strides if you’re taller and still manage to run. Tiny home machines may only allow you to walk.
- Greater incline range: Setting the incline to more challenging levels is possible on more advanced machines. This increases the intensity of your workout and consequently the calorie burn too.
- Access to expertise: Should you choose to, you could get the help of a trainer or just pick up tips from others at the gym.
- Social experience: Working out on the treadmill also becomes a social experience which can be a motivation for some.
That said, having a treadmill machine at home has its own advantages.
- Instant access: The benefit of having a treadmill at home is mainly that you can hop out of bed and into your running shoes and start exercising. It eliminates the commute.
- Anytime workouts: You can exercise anytime of the day you like – no gym timings to follow.
- One-time cost: Exercise on a treadmill at home is a one-time investment. No monthly or annual memberships that you need to fork out for.
Concerns Related To Treadmill Exercise
Treadmills make it easier to exercise at least logistically. No dependence on weather is a big plus, especially in places where winter, rain, or storm can prevent outdoor running and walking.
- Investment needed: You do, however, need to invest in either a treadmill for home or in a gym membership to gain access to treadmill machines. This may not be possible for everyone, with budget treadmills running from 250 to 300 USD for basic models with shorter belt length (suited only for walking) and no facility to track heart rate or set a range of programs. Average pricing on the market for slightly better models is about 500 USD. Next level treadmills cost more but have longer belt length and may be sturdier, allowing you to run a little and not just walk. Plus, they often contain add-ons like heart rate trackers. Higher-end models can run into the thousands but are ideal if your goal is mainly to run and not walk.10 Alternatively, you could join a gym for access to these higher-end machines. Walking outdoors, on the other hand, is easy for everyone to do regardless of financial health.
- Challenge for the Elderly: The only caveat here is for the elderly. The coordination needed to manage the controls of speed and incline on a treadmill while simultaneously walking may prove to be a challenge. 11
- Lack of familiarity impacts performance: Similar challenges present themselves for those unfamiliar with treadmill usage. This translates to shorter distances walked on a treadmill compared to off it. In one study of older heart disease patients, 22% patients were unable to complete the basic 6-minute treadmill walking test while another 17% walked a very short distance on the treadmill compared to when they were walking in traditional conditions.12
Overcoming Problems With Treadmill Exercise
When it comes to finances, that’s a decision for everyone to make on their own depending on their capacity to fund the purchase. Alternatives will be to buy a used one in good condition or sign up for a local gym. If you can’t afford a higher-end machine, buy a smaller one without heart rate monitors and get a snap on heart rate monitor you can wear on your wrist.
The solution to issues of familiarity and coordination is to set the incline of the treadmill at 0% so it mimics level ground. A steady speed can also be set to prevent changes that could make an elderly person unsteady. For those not familiar, preset programs can help eliminate the issue of changing settings as you go.13
|↑1||How much physical activity do adults need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑2||Physical activity improves quality of life. American Heart Association.|
|↑3||Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑4||McCormick, James Jeremy. “The metabolic cost of slow graded treadmill walking with a weighted vest in untrained females.” PhD diss., 2014.|
|↑5||Langhammer, Birgitta, and Johan K. Stanghelle. “Exercise on a treadmill or walking outdoors? A randomized controlled trial comparing effectiveness of two walking exercise programmes late after stroke.” Clinical Rehabilitation 24, no. 1 (2010): 46-54.|
|↑6, ↑10||What you need to know to purchase a treadmill. American Council on Exercise.|
|↑7||Haggerty, Mason, D. Clark Dickin, Jennifer Popp, and Henry Wang. “The influence of incline walking on joint mechanics.” Gait & posture 39, no. 4 (2014): 1017-1021.|
|↑8||Perrey, Stephane, and Nicolas Fabre. “Exertion during uphill, level and downhill walking with and without hiking poles.” J Sports Sci Med 7, no. 1 (2008): 32-38.|
|↑9||Sport Specific Safety Cross Country Running. Sports Medicine & Athletic Related Trauma Institute University of South Florida Tampa.|
|↑11, ↑13||Weisman, Idelle M., and R. Jorge Zeballos, eds. Clinical exercise testing. Vol. 32. Karger Medical and Scientific Publishers, 2002.|
|↑12||Peeters, Patrick, and Tony Mets. “The 6-minute walk as an appropriate exercise test in elderly patients with chronic heart failure.” The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences 51, no. 4 (1996): M147-M151.|