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Learn about the features of treadmills and how you can benefit from these machines.

Treadmills are more widely used for exercise in the United States than any other type of machine. [©Jupiter Images, 2009]
©Jupiter Images, 2009
Treadmills are more widely used for exercise in the United States than any other type of machine.

Whether used for walking or running, treadmills are a popular fixture in many homes, gyms and even some businesses. In fact, according to Consumer Reports, treadmills are more widely used for exercise in the United States than any other type of machine. Treadmills have come a long way over the years, available in a variety of styles with numerous features to make workouts less monotonous and more enjoyable. Get the details in this article, from types of treadmills to special features and the latest developments.

Types of Treadmills

Though all treadmills are essentially just machines with a motorized belt, there are differences in size and capability. Budget-priced treadmills generally go up to 10 mph and work best for walking, as their decks may be too small for a runner's pace. Midrange-priced models are a bit sturdier and offer the same features as budget treadmills, usually with the added benefits of more electronic options and a heart monitor. Runners should opt for the stronger, more expensive models, due to the machines' long decks, robust motors and durable construction.

When it comes to treadmills, price often parallels machine quality. Of the machines reviewed by Consumer Reports in September 2008, testers noted fewer problems with machines purchased from specialty fitness shops that cost more than $2,000. While lower-priced models are probably more suitable for walkers, serious runners may want to invest in a more expensive machine. Lower-priced treadmills also received poor quality marks from Consumer Reports testers for the frequency and severity of the defects. Even defects covered by warranty require attention from experienced technicians, which could take weeks -- enough time to frustrate even the most zealous workout enthusiasts.

Additional Features

Treadmills come with a variety of features, from electronic hand-grip or chest-strap heart monitors to automatic shut-offs to fans in the control panel.

  • Preset workout programs give users the option to select the speed, endurance and duration of their workouts.
  • For a tougher challenge, treadmills can be inclined to simulate running uphill.
  • Ergonomic, one-touch controls with large, easily visible displays are available on many models.
  • Padded handrails and wide, flat foot rails offer users additional ease-of-use and security.
  • Shock absorption systems available on some models save wear and tear on knees.
  • Folding treadmills are great space-savers.
  • A safety lock can keep a treadmill from being turned on accidentally, a great feature for those with children.
  • Some treadmills even offer fans, LCD televisions and a dock to connect an MP3 player.

Who Should Use Treadmills

Walking is an activity tolerated by most individuals regardless of their health condition or fitness level, making treadmills appropriate for nearly anyone. Walking briskly on a treadmill for 30 minutes per day is good for the heart, burns calories, improves circulation, helps fight depression, improves breathing and strengthens the immune system. The wide-ranging benefits, flexibility and workout control of a treadmill are particularly attractive for the following groups:

  • Individuals with certain mobility conditions. Those with osteoporosis or back pain can benefit from a treadmill's consistency and predictable surface.
  • Individuals who prefer to work out in the privacy of their own homes.
  • People trying to lose weight. Running on a treadmill generally burns more calories than other forms of in-home exercise
  • Stroke victims. A 2008 study reported by U.S. News & World Report shows that regular use of a treadmill helps to improve the brain function of stroke victims, leading to more widespread use in that area.
  • Pregnant women. According to the Mayo Clinic, most healthy pregnant women benefit from a half hour of walking most days to provide aerobic conditioning with nominal joint stress. However, pregnant women should consult with a doctor before starting an exercise program.

Latest Developments

As Americans continue to strive for slimmer waists and leaner thighs, innovations in treadmills are being introduced. An interactive program, iFit, uses digital cues to control speed, incline settings and the duration of the exercise. Treadmills equipped with iFit allow users to employ CDs, videos or the Internet to create customized workouts.

Treadmill desks are another growing trend. Developed by Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic, these machines allow office workers to walk at a slow pace at their desks while performing their daily tasks, burning an extra 100 calories per hour.

Mini-treadmills for children have recently been introduced amid concerns about the rising number of overweight children. A pressurized treadmill called the "G-Trainer" allows the user's lower body to move in a low-gravity chamber, thus reducing stress on the knees and hips.

Consumers should evaluate their fitness goals and capabilities, along with their space availability and budget, to choose a treadmill that best fits their needs. Selecting the machine that best matches those requirements can make workouts less tedious and more enjoyable.

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