Old vintage compass and travel instruments on ancient map (iStock)

There in the basement, next to the washer and dryer sits a rather large and motionless mammoth of a beast. It doesn’t growl, or make any noise for that matter, and yet it compels me to notice it and give it some attention. It’s been lonely for quite some time.

Now into my second week of self-imposed isolation to help flatten, or rather plank the curve, the need to find something new on which to focus attention is undeniable. Work from home continues but outside of those dedicated hours, colouring and decluttering can only keep one’s attention for so long.  A variety of activities is essential for mental wellness as supported by Amy Morin in her article, “5 Physical Activities that Will Boost Your Mental Strength Right Now” (2016, Inc.com). 

Approaching this quiet yet somehow pleading beast, how dysfunctional its life has been for the past few years becomes apparent. The bottles stored on its base and the winter jackets temporarily staged on its top are removed and I take a long, deep breath in, exhale with a sigh, and … plug life back into it.

Nothing fancy, my treadmill is a hand-me-down, gifted from a friend a few years ago. At the time, this was a delightful gift to receive.  Having it easily accessible in the home meant no gym membership or need to go outside during inclement weather. A promise to a committed long term relationship with this new beast, as was solemnly sworn, didn’t last as long as anticipated.  The honeymoon period wore off quickly.

Punishing the Prisoner

The history of the treadmill supported my initial feelings of it being a torture device. “If you consider a treadmill to be a form of punishment, you’re not alone. In fact, the engineer who created the treadmill had the same idea in the year 1818” (PBS.org) The invention was created by English civil engineer Sir William Cubitt not as fitness equipment but as a device to reform convicts (RetroScience: The Surprising Origin Story of the Treadmill | NOVA | PBS).  In A Christmas Carol, the novella by Charles Dickens and first published in 1843, “Scrooge suggests that the poor go to the Union workhouses, or to the Treadmill, or that they be taken care of by the Poor Law” (A Christmas Carol: Notes in the Margin, Rich Bowen, 2004). One can agree that a treadmill workout can be perceived as a form of punishment despite how those advertisements make it look and feel so differently.

Treading Backwards

One can tread even further back through history to 1st century AD. “The Romans used a precursor to the treadmill, known as the treadwheel or polyspaston (Latin for ‘hoisting tackle with pulleys’) crane,” writes Josh Douglas-Walton, a Health and Fitness Writer.  Skip forward in history and a US patent for a treadmill training machine was issued on June 17, 1913.  In the late 1960s, the world was introduced to the mass-produced home treadmill, invented by mechanical engineer William Staub.  Treadmills have become much more advanced over the years.  Today there are more automated treadmills with many bells and whistles. The newer high-tech ones can adjust to the runner’s speed with a non-contact control system, a smoother run, and connection to audio coaching. It’s imaginable that soon a state-of-the-art group-style virtual running experience will also become available. An allowable group experience during social distancing: what a treat!

Treading Forwards

Considering various motivational techniques offered to stay psychologically and mentally well during a turbulent time, J. Grant Howard’s quote supports the need to move as he writes, “The world is a treadmill, and we are being pulled backward on it if we aren’t consciously walking forward.”  In his 1986 book, Balancing Life’s Demands: A New Perspective on Priorities, Howard shares his thoughts that, “Everywhere where we turn there are choices to be made.” How do we walk forward during the situation in which we currently find ourselves?  One aspect of developing a resilience plan is determining strategies that help keep one moving. Strategies such as going for a walk on one’s treadmill or up and down the stairs in one’s home, meditating, engaging in structured breathing techniques, playing with a pet, preforming some yard work, writing, journaling or another hobby.  One canpause to consider how choices change in relation to one’s priorities, especially during turbulent times.

Treading Today Today, dusting off my inside running shoes of which Mr. Rogers would surely approve, I’m choosing to give this beast the attention that I deserve. I’ll post a new map on the refrigerator with goals and kilometers achieved on the treadmill and connect my tablet to online virtual views of those targeted geographical areas. In this self-imposed critical time, choosing to not feel lonely as I tread along, forward thinking while listening to the distinct purr of my mammoth beast, is one healthy choice I can make today.