Saving Energy In Exercise Habits- Treadmill or Trail?

We have become a society where we go round and round in parking lots, running our vehicles at 10 mph, (which is extremely inefficient considering fuel consumption), to save walking a few steps to the door of grocery store. And then we hop on a 2 HP treadmill to burn calories. We use energy to be lazy and then we use energy to do exercise. How smart is that? All our habits are designed to consume, consume and then consume even more.

When we are exercising, we are actually consuming energy. People are experimenting how to harness this energy to produce electricity. Still it is in experimental stage and even if it is made possible, it will not be appreciable amount of energy. However it will certainly tip the balance a little so it is always welcome.

Coming back to our treadmill consumption. This page tells me that the energy consumption of a normal treadmill is around 2HP, so 1500 Watts (1 HP = 750 Watts). Normally people use it for about half hour, so 1.5 x 0.5 KWH = 0.75  KWH every day. If two people are using it, then it is about 1.5 KWH per day. Costs of electricity for this consumption accounting for taxes will be about 20 cents. So in a month, you are spending about 6 $ for running treadmill. So if you bought a treadmill for about $200-225, then within 3 years you are spending as much money on electricity as on treadmill. No, we have not yet touched the subject of saving about 2 lb of CO2 escaping in air per day.

When we use treadmill, all the time we are just at one place, which is dull and boring. So we put a television there, which goes on consuming about 100 Watts more. The treadmill, the television and our body is consuming all this energy and converting it to heat. So our air conditioner is working extra, consuming a lot more energy.

Does this have to be all this complicated with twenty bulky instruments around before we move our foot? Does this have to be so burdensome on nature? Can’t we just pick up an I-pod and shoes and get to the nearest park?

Bar those days when it is too cold or too hot outside. Still there are plenty of days in a year when you can walk or run on road and actually lots of people indeed do it. It is worth it. It is worth it for the smell of fresh air. It is worth it for the sake of environment. It is worth it for the sake of friends we make when we jog on trails. And most of all, it is worth it for the sake of money we save over a long period of time.

Not buying a treadmill – 225 $ saved
Not paying for treadmill electricity bill for 3 years – another $200 saved.
Not paying for extra air conditioner load and taxes on all of these – $25
Keeping blue sky blue – priceless.

~ by Kedar on March 10, 2007.

30 Responses to “Saving Energy In Exercise Habits- Treadmill or Trail?”

  1. How about manual treadmills that are hooked up to gears which produce electricity to power household appliances?

  2. Hi Trish,

    I have seen that kind of stuff in some patent database. But not a lot in practice. Perhaps because the amount of energy produced by manual effort is rather low. Here is an interesting table of calories burned in exercise.
    So when we walk briskly, we burn about 300 cal / hr, so @4.18 J/Cal, it is roughly 1250 J/hr, meaning 1.25 KWh gross energy. If converting about 70% in useful electricity. Rest goes in losses.
    So total manual output is roughly 0.8 KWh.
    If you refer my post on energy consumption by household appliances, there is a link to a table that shows how much energy each appliance consumes.
    So according to that table, this energy is useful to run one light bulb for about 20-30 hrs, or one microwave for about 20 mins, or one dryer for about 10 mins. So not a lot of energy to run a house.
    On the top of that, if you run A/C for 10 extra minutes because you got tired, you already lost all that energy.
    However I agree about one thing. Anyway all the treadmill energy is loss. So why not have at least some net positive gain? Also if you count end to end, perhaps human body is the most efficient energy conversion machine.

    Thanks for your comment though, its about time we need brainstorming on every possible way to save energy or produce green energy.


  3. I’ve only just discovered your blog – great reading thanks. I agree with teh gist of this post, I prefer a hour on my bike outside in the air to the same on an exercise bike or ergometer in the gym. In the gym I do use when the sun doesn’t shine most of the equipment uses no energy, the control and where they existing the entertainment systems all use the power generated from activity to run. The exceptions are the treadmills 😦
    On the downside, they resort to aircon, even in Scotland to keep the atmosphere pleasant.

  4. Cost of doctor’s bill from ruining your knees from running/walking up hills and having surgery = $2,000+

    Seriously. Running outside has it’s negative effects too. And that is defiantly one of them for individuals who live in areas where the terrain is not always consistent. (talk to my Mom, in fact, and talk to her physical therapist about the negative side effects of working out on non-flat terrain)

    “But those days when it is too cold or too hot outside. Still there are plenty of days in a year when you can walk or run on road and actually lots of people indeed do it. It is worth it. It is worth it for the smell of fresh air. It is worth it for the sake of environment.”

    Well, let’s think about this for a minute. What about the rainy states? I know in the Northwest it rains heavily for about 240/365 days of the year. And of course those in Alaska aren’t going to run outside in the snowy parts 😉 What about many regions in the South/Southwest where temperatures reach ungodly numbers (100+ weeks on end) where it actually becomes dangerous to run outside in such conditions? Here’s another thing to think about: what about those who can only work out in the evenings? Would you suggest to them to run outside in the dark?

    Here’s the thing though: there are places in the US at least where the running conditions are not good for a good chunk of a few months at least. It takes your body approximately 2 months to return to the state it was in (health-wise) prior to a continuous exercise plan. So, what should runners do in those months? They can’t very well stop.

    The solution to me, in terms of the energy-conscious, should be an advocation not to necessarily ‘avoid buying a treadmill’ but rather a variety of solutions-perhaps run outside on days in which the weather is good and use the treadmill when it isn’t. Listen to a portable walkman/CD player while running instead of watching a TV. Or, if one loves to run on their treadmill but wants to save energy, perhaps suggest that they split up their work-out-20 minutes running and then 20 minutes jump-rope, or non-electricity exercise bike.

    Either way, the possibilities are endless. I don’t think you should advocate some sort of anti-treadmill stance (which this entry to me appears to be that way), because for some, running outside just isn’t possible.

  5. I am interested in these treadmills that harvest energy, even if it is a small amount. Powering an entertainment device or a work device will walking on a manual treadmill would, at the very least, produce a positive gain for that exercise. If anyone has some links, I’d love to see them! Please e-mail: berrigan (at) mit (dot) edu

  6. Another way for saving energy is use the black search engine.

    and I use

    and you?

  7. Can you run outside in the evening without risking being hit by a car or rubbed by a man?

    Can you run outside when it is raining or snowing?

    Can you run outside without getting sun tane when it is not raining? (I know what you are going to say, but how much will it cost to put on sun lotion?)

    All of the above are external cost that are not included in your so called analysis.

    You analysis is foundamentally flawed because you cook up those numbers in a vacumm. Be real.

  8. Hey Gary and folks here,

    I will give a collective reply here.

    Knee problem? It is pretty much same if you run outside or inside, if you have decent running shoes. If you are running outside on grass or clay trail, then it surely beats treadmill.

    Being hit by a car? You can’t even drive without being risking being hit by a car. By this logic, you should not come out of your house at all.

    Sun burn and lotion expense? Well, yeah, that would be some cost probably, but not prohibitive, I am sure. In the money you spend on buying treadmill, probably you can buy sun screen enough for a couple thousand years.

    Rain and snow. Yes. That is indeed a valid point. I am not arguing people should run out in freezing weather.

    All your arguments are based on the assumption that every superficial risk above is real but global warming is fiction. Or if you believe it is real, you still believe that somehow technology will take care of it while we continue to plunder natural resources.

    About my numbers, pretty much every number I can back by independent references.

    So I guess you need to be real here, not me.

  9. I think you are missing the larger point that Gary is trying to make. While I absolutely agree that we should take advantage of every opportunity to get our exercise outside and without the negative environmental effects of exercise equipment, for many of us, that is just not possible. In many urban (and not urban, for that matter) areas, it is simply unsafe to walk especially at night, in bad weather, or alone. Many of us don’t have parks nearby and that means driving to a park/track or other safe space. And don’t get me started about the danger of zoning out to your iPod as you jog/walk! Your analysis does not include the wasteful impact of being unhealthy and out of shape! With the exorbitant costs and environmental impacts of obesity/diabetes /poor health, that is not an insignificant cost.

    Your point is well taken – We should consider the impacts of our behavior, even our behaviors designed to achieve and maintain our health. But in the real world, we have to make difficult choices sometimes. So I work hard to use my car much less (now down to <7500 miles a year) but use a treadmill daily to get/stay in good health. I think it’s a reasonable trade off that ought to be respected.

  10. Hello Nancy,

    Let me say it again. I never denied that there could be circumstances where indoor treadmill exercise is more feasible than outdoor run. Always you can find that such cases.

    However, there are a lot of times when running outside is feasible and possible and safe. In such cases, people should really consider running outside.

    About staying healthy. There are several options. Skipping, push ups, pull ups, dumb bells, weight lifting, aerobics, yoga, punching bag? There are a lot of exercises you can do at home and at gym, without consuming electricity. I am trying to find a reference, but I can’t so let me say it unquoted. Apparently Skipping consumes almost double the calories than running.

    Practically every conservation I have recommended on my blog can be questioned by raising the points against it. I myself run on treadmills in winter. I myself sometimes throw the plastic bottles in trash can instead of recycle bin because recycle bin is far away or because I am tired. But that does not disprove my point.

    My general point is that this energy conservation aspect in rarely considered in things like exercise. It needs to be taken into account as a factor. But what priority to give to that factor is up to every individual.

  11. […] saved 1.5 Kwh and 2 Lbs of CO2 for each hour that you trade the treadmill for the bike trail. See Saving Energy In Exercise Habits for more on this. Chances are, you’ll have more fun this way! Married to machines? Build a […]

  12. It all depends on the person. My wife can’t run unless it’s on a treadmill. Any exercise is better than none.

  13. Hi…. can you tell me about the treadmill that can generate electricity …I am working on a project …and we want to suggest our school `s fitness center to purchase those new treadmill….

  14. hi i m vikas can u tell me what would be total expence for set up of such treadmill and what would be standard specification of equipment involved ..

  15. I live in Marquette, Michigan, where yearly snowfall totals regularly exceed 250 inches. Yet as utterly outrageous as it sounds, running outside in January in Marquette is not impossible! It’s actually a lot of fun! Running in the rain is also possible! And enjoyable! If you’re looking to stay in shape and don’t plan on overcoming any kind of adversity short of driving to a gym, you’ve probably got other priorities that need addressing first.
    Your wife can’t run unless it’s on a treadmill? Why do I find this statement very short-sighted, let alone untrue? I bet she would run if a bear was chasing her.
    From what I can see, from reading these posts and from my own experience of seeing how people use exercise equipment at gyms as a part of their lifestyle, this pattern of consumption cannot be justified by situational “what ifs.” These are weak excuses, people. You’re better off to say “I would run outside, but I don’t care enough about the wastefulness of a treadmill to put myself in that uncomfortable of a position.” Such is the way of life in 21st century Western society: get fit, maintain an image, at the expense of …. ???

    How about going to a nearby high school and running around a track? That couldn’t possibly be more boring than a treadmill.

  16. And no, it does NOT depend on what a person CAN or CAN’T do, it’s what a person will or will not do. Congratulations, you found the motivation to get off your ass and exercise. That’s your excuse for not caring about how much you consume?

  17. I don’t think it’s been mentioned yet, but treadmills actually use quite a bit less energy then your analysis implies. The HP rating of a motor is the maximum output, like a car might say “200 hp”. You don’t actually use 200 hp unless you stand on the accelerator. The hp rating of a treadmill is only maxed when you go at its top speed.

    I have low end model, a Pro-Form J4, which has about 2 or 2.5 hp (it’s not listed anywhere, but that’s about how many hp the cheap models start at and mine is CHEAP). I plugged it into a watt meter (Kill-A-Watt, a must for any energy saver) and then I checked its actual energy use. Here’s what I found:

    4 mph, 0% incline, me not on it = 200 watts
    4 mph, 0% incline, with me on it (I’m 200 lbs) = 400 watts
    4 mph, 10% incline, with me on it = 120 watts

    So I’ve discovered a great way to use less energy! Just put your treadmill on an incline! It makes perfect sense. I noticed the other day that even with the motor off, I could stand on the treadmill and pull the belt along just with my weight when I had it set to maximum incline. That’s because my weight was helping to pull the belt along, thus relieving the motor of that job.

    Think of it as if you are indeed giving energy back to the grid, because that is effectively what you are doing when you walk on an incline. On a slope, you’re lifting yourself up all the time. But you don’t keep getting higher, because you are constantly falling, too. Muscle power lifts you up, and gravity (plus the motor) bring you down. On a flat surface, you are wasting energy because the belt has to do all the work of moving your body. On an incline, you let gravity do a large chunk of the moving for you, thus saving the watts.
    Plus, even if you don’t want to do your whole workout at a steep angle, switching up the angle is good for you – it works you a bit differently, and my trainer says that’s a good idea. For me, I prefer the incline anyway, because my knees hurt a lot less that way. Going on an incline puts less shock on your knees with each footfall. The reverse is true, too. That’s why people with bad knees notice it so much more going downhill or down stairs. Plus, because you’re working so hard to get uphill, you need fewer steps (or a shorter workout) to burn your calories, so I find my workouts get done sooner and/or with less pain on an incline, regardless of watts.
    Last, I ain’t running anywhere when it’s below zero outside, let alone when there’s a foot of snow or giant hidden ice patches everywhere. No way. A good third of the US and most of Canada is just not made for running outside in the winter.

    120 watts for an hour five times a week only adds up to 31 kilowatts per year (under $5/year), which ain’t bad, especially since my power company lets me pay a little more (We-Energies in Milwaukee) to get 100% renewable energy.

  18. You know what? I’m really dumb. Just go ahead and ignore my incline idea. I wasn’t using 120 watts going uphill! My meter auto-resets to measuring volts if I don’t hit the watts button every time! So I was looking at 120 VOLTS, which is what all household sockets are.
    At least one thing remains true – you don’t necessarily use the rated HP. I’m using about 400 watts to walk up a 10% grade at 3.5 mph.
    Also, the grade is still good in that it doesn’t seem to use *more* watts than flat, and it does burn more calories, so it might still be a way to burn more calories for less energy.

    I don’t know why the treadmill isn’t more efficient with an incline, though, since it does almost roll along on its own when i step on it with the motor off, so I don;t know why that effect doesn’t help the motor. I’ll have to ask an engineer 🙂

  19. Kedar,

    I think you have greatly over-estimated the amount of energy that can be “harvested” from a treadmill. Your reply to Trish above indicates that in one hour you’d be able to get 1250 Joules of energy. Of this, you’ll convert 70% to electricity, that is 875 Joules. Now 875 Joules = 875 Watt-seconds = (875/3600) Watt-hours = 0.25 Watt-hour = one-fourth of one-thousandth of 1 kWH, NOT 0.8 kWH, as indicated in your posting!

    This amount of energy is enough to run a 100 W incandescent, or 10 ten-watt flourescents for 8.75 seconds! Not 20-30 hours as your calculation seems to indicate

  20. Dude, 1250 joules does NOT equal 1.25KW/h, not even close, there are 3600000j in just one kW/h. Tbh, if you could run a lightbulb for 20/30 hours after only one hour of brisk walk this would probs solve the world energy crisis…. ahwell, pitty bad maths dosent count in the real world… 😦

  21. how does not conserving enegry effect our environment?

  22. fatso doesn’t want to go outside to walk so fatso stays inside and walks on the electric treadmill or cooks and eats…take your choice.

    electric treadmills fit in nicely with odd hours and safety. walking at night is not necessarily safe.

    how about having both options? and using which is the most practical for the day and keep healthy and not worry about the few dollars you mention above?

  23. children taking naps…leave them alone or use the treadmill? won’t have children if leave them alone to go walk.

  24. The opening article is the best comment on treadmills I have seen.
    They are the most ridiculous waste of energy
    How can we get it over to people that the morning after Earth Day when we switch off all our lights for an hour, we squander all that saved energy on a treadmill in 40 minutes the day after.
    The motors are at least 2 horsepowe (1500 watts) some in gyms up to 3 Kilowatts. A human being working flat-out can achieve about 1/5th horsepower (150 watts)at most.(I am a retired professor of electrical engineering and can agree all the figures given in your article.So you’re using TEN TIMES the energy in a pathetic attempt to get rid of a few excess calories and puff out your chest. All this energy together with the TV ends up as heat and has to be removed from the gym by an air conditioning unit and fans.
    Alltogether this amounts to 20 times the carbon dioxide emission
    that would take place in the open air.

  25. Why not save AND generate energy using a stationary bike? I just saw an article (go at the bottom of the page and read “Stationary Bikes Used For Generating Energy”) that summarizes the different concepts in using stationary bikes in generating energy. I hardly see any article about treadmills that generate energy, in fact I have only seen one 😦

  26. I eat grass and live in the gutter but i am rich

  27. […] Head to the treadmill for about 45 minutes. The ecological impact of the treadmill isn’t horrible, but it isn’t ideal either. And I do also watch TV while I’m on the […]

  28. I have just started using a treadmill. I do resistance workouts at home and run for 10 minutes to warm up. In the winter the cold air makes breathing difficult and I have to break out my inhaler. By using a treadmill I do not need to bundle up or use my inhaler and can complete my workout in a shorter period of time. Time is my most valuable resource, which is most of the reason of why I do my workouts at home and not go to the gym. My workplace provides free gym membership, but just getting there and back would take 30mins.

  29. I’m fortunate enough to live in an amazing place where you really can run almost year round. Outdoors is best for many reasons, but for those times when you need/want a treadmill, how about the Woodway Eco-Mill? It’s completely self-powered, and ReRev compatible to feed electricity back into the building, at a rate of about each mph = 16 watt hours. Not bad.

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