Think Before Buying a Treadmill

There was a time when the only place you'd find a treadmill was in a physiology lab or a sports medicine clinic. Not anymore.

Treadmills are one of the highest-selling exercise machines in the country, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Thousands have run out to stores so they could bring home a treadmill and do their walking in the comfort of the living room or den.

A machine--no matter how many electronic dials, imaginary inclines and flashing pulse meters it boasts--will not solve your exercise problems. For proof of that, consider the millions of rowing machines buried in closets, the stationary bicycles gathering dust in basements, the cross-country ski machines converted into plant stands.

Not that machines aren't useful for exercise. For walkers and runners, the treadmill can be an excellent substitute for a track or a country road when the weather turns nasty or the days grow short. You can also use a treadmill to give variety to your exercise routine. Rather than swimming or in-line skating, take a spin on the treadmill.

The key is to stick to a regular exercise program, treadmill or no treadmill. So before you buy a treadmill or any piece of equipment, stop to figure out what kind of exercise you enjoy. That's the exercise you'll keep doing.

If you're the sort who might benefit from a treadmill, a home model has some advantages. You can watch TV or read while you walk without worrying about getting hit by a car.

But treadmills also have their problems. A strong motor is necessary to reach higher jogging speeds and to start the belt at a slow speed for people who cannot walk at faster speeds. Safety features you should look for include stability, a wide jogging belt to help you balance, and an automatic emergency turn-off button that is tethered or clipped.

But before you make the investment, remember that walking or jogging on a treadmill isn't much different than walking or jogging through the park. If you enjoy that, you'll probably be able to make good use of your treadmill.