Attempting to combat a very sedentary lifestyle

November 26, 2020

A bit of backstory… Prior to 1992, my work as a teacher involved a lot of incidental walking and standing each day, and I rarely sat except when I got home from work. Between 1992 and 1998 I worked for a software development company, and was involved in training, installations, writing user manuals, and answering help desk calls. Training and installations required me to walk and stand, but I spent much of my time sitting on a chair at my desk and staring at a computer screen. I lived about 5 km from the office, so would ride my bike to work when the weather was suitable, and I attended a gym close to work for about 30 to 60 minutes most days. From 1999 to 2006 I worked for other software companies much further from home and with no nearby gyms, so riding the bike to work wasn’t possible, and except for walking to/from the carpark and popping out to the local lunch bar, most of my time was spent sitting at a computer, doing technical writing. In 2007, we moved out of the city to the country and I began working from home full-time, where my commute was about 10 steps! We lived at the top of a ‘heart attack’ hill in that town, so riding the bike was out, as was a lot of walking. I was still doing tech writing, but in late 2008, I segued into editing where I was still sitting in front of a computer all day. In 2010 we moved to another location in the country, some 9 km from the nearest shop and about 13 km to a gym. Again, we were on a hill, though nowhere nearly as steep. And I continued to work from home. Did I also mention that I’m the world’s biggest excuse-finder for avoiding exercise? It’s either too hot, too cold, too wet, too windy, too smoky, too many mosquitoes (we live in an area with Ross River and Barmah Forest virus-carrying mosquitoes), I’ve got to put on insecticide, wear special shoes/clothes, find the fly net, don’t feel like it now, will go later… Any excuse NOT to exercise is good enough! And yes, I know the horror stories of a sedentary lifestyle.

Fast forward to now… On an editors’ Facebook page and Twitter discussion group some people had mentioned using an under-desk cycle machine to keep their legs moving and their circulation flowing. Some had recommended the DeskCycle so I investigated it as an option. After all, my feet just tuck up under the chair or in front of me for hours at a time while I’m working—they may as well be doing something! But my under-desk height was less than they recommended, and so the unit wouldn’t fit under my desk without me hitting my knees on every rotation. I have a built-in desk in my home office, so changing the desk is not an option. However, I found that DeskCycle also have an under-desk elliptical machine, the DeskCycle Ellipse. It seemed to fit my situation, the minimum desk height was suitable, and the reviews were good. (I haven’t linked to their website as they seem to have different websites for purchasing from different countries; you can also purchase from Amazon etc.)

I purchased the DeskCycle Ellipse based on the reviews, the 30-day money back guarantee, and the free shipping. It’s not the cheapest or most expensive of the available machines—somewhere in the middle. It arrived about a week later, and I spent about 2 minutes putting it together. Actually, all I did was attach the foot pedals with the supplied tools, screws, and washers—everything else was done. It’s a heavy beast (about 10–15 kg), so it will likely stay under the desk. It’s also really well made and is as silent as they say it is. The only noise I hear occasionally is the creak of my chair as I’m ‘cycling’. I was concerned that the movement would push my wheeled chair away from the desk all the time, but this has never happened. However, if it did, there’s a carry handle/bar at the front you could loop a mesh strap through to tether your chair to the machine.

So, what’s it like? And has it made any difference to anything? Here are some observations from the first two weeks:

  • I found it was really easy to get used to moving my legs on the machine—I didn’t expect that.
  • I can work just like normal even though I’m moving my legs constantly—I didn’t expect that either. I thought I’d be rocking from side to side, but that hasn’t been the case, and what little body movement there’s been hasn’t impeded my ability to work.
  • The amount of time you spend moving your legs mounts up quickly, and you don’t even know it. I regularly do 3 to 6 hours of ‘pedalling’ each day, with the most on days I have work to do.
  • As it’s early days, I still have the resistance level set to 1 (as they recommend). I’ll likely increase it to 2 next week (the maximum is 8). Higher resistance = more effort = more calories burned.
  • The monitor can sit in a holder on the machine, or there’s a supplied extension cable (a good length too, perhaps 1.5–2 metres?) and a desk mount unit you can fit it to. Mine sits comfortably on the desk mount just under one of my computer monitors, and I can see at a glance how many rotations, how much time, as well as the calories expended since I last reset the monitor.
  • The monitor is battery-powered—nothing plugs into electricity.
  • You can link the monitor to a Fitbit, but I haven’t done so. However, I did set up an account with DeskCycle for inputting my monitor readings each day.
  • The monitor only records up to 99,999 rotations, so I clear it at the end of each day (press the reset button on the front for 3 seconds) after I’ve recorded my progress online. 99,999 sounds like a lot, but is probably only about 3 to 5 days of rotations, depending how long you use it each day.
  • All measurements are in calories and not kilojoules, both on the monitor and in the online account. However, they do convert miles to kilometres in the online account.
  • The online account records and calculates quite a lot of info, based on your age, weight etc. and calculates calories expended using the machine as well as just sitting. It also records daily, weekly, monthly, and all time totals for various parameters (see the screenshots below). One thing I like is how it converts your rotations into equivalent steps if you were walking—I know the recommended daily step count is 10,000 steps so that has meaning for me.
  • The online account doesn’t have an option for you to put in your time zone, so if I forget to add my details after I finish work and add them the next morning (even though I say ‘yesterday’), that’s treated as though it’s today and they get added to today’s total, so some daily totals end up being twice what they should be. I think they are using North American time zones, and it does look weird to see that my day is a negative day!
  • My knees hurt a bit for several seconds after finishing for the day, but I haven’t felt any aches in my leg muscles at all, which I get when I walk after not walking for some time. The pain in my knees could be because the foot pedals are in a straight line, whereas I have a bit of a duck walk, with my knees turning out at a bit of an angle.
  • Speaking of the foot pedals, they are nice and big (length and width) and would suit any size foot. If you rotate with your feet positioned near the top of the foot pedals, you use different muscles and I need to remember to change it up every so often. (BTW, one of the complaints I read about the DeskCycle [not the DeskCycle Ellipse, which I have] was that people with big feet would ‘hit’ the floor while cycling—that’s not possible with the Ellipse).
  • You can rotate forwards or backwards—it all counts. I have to remember to go backwards every so often.
  • The instruction manual and stickers on the foot pedals clearly tell you NOT use this machine while standing. It is only for use while sitting, either under your desk while you’re working, or while you’re watching TV etc. (I’m tempted, but I would only do this if I was holding onto a wall! Actually, I’m a bit of a chicken, so likely wouldn’t try it at all.)
  • I haven’t been using it long enough (just under two weeks) to know if it’s made any difference to my weight, but any weight loss would be a bonus, and that isn’t my objective. The objective is to move more and get the circulation flowing to combat a couple of decades of sitting. I also haven’t felt the need to eat more, as sometimes happens when I’ve tried other forms of exercise.
  • I don’t feel tired after doing all those rotations each day, and my sleep patterns haven’t changed.

Would I recommend it? Yes! Assuming all this movement is helping to keep me healthy, it’s a no-brainer for me, and I wish I’d known about these machines sooner. NOTE: Any step totals are ONLY from the machine, and need to be added to any steps I take in normal day-to-day life.

Screenshots from my online account that show my progress (all taken today, 26 Nov 2020):

Today’s progress, a whopping 17,677 steps over 6 hours (26 Nov 2020)

Daily progress – you can see it’s not hard to get to 10,000 steps most days

Weekly progress – the 8,000 steps in the first week was only from one day

Monthly progress so far, starting on 13 Nov to today (26 Nov). Based on this, I would expect to do approximately 250,000 steps per month just on the machine, which is a big jump from maybe 40,000 in normal activity working from home

Update as at 31 December 2020: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2021/01/01/update-on-deskcycle-ellipse-usage/


  1. Thank you for the review! This looks like a doable way to get some exercise. I’ll definitely investigate.

  2. Very interesting Rhonda, thankyou for sharing. I have a stand-up desk and it’s made a huge difference to me. I have much less back pain; it has cured my painfully tight hip flexors; I can stand up for far longer than previously; and my back is stronger and less prone to injury generally. These everyday changes make a big difference to us dangerously sedentary workers.

  3. […] Back in mid-November 2020, my DeskCycle Ellipse arrived and I started using it (details: https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2020/11/26/attempting-to-combat-a-very-sedentary-lifestyle/). […]

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