According to a recent ConsumerReports.org poll of more than 1,400 subscribers, the majority of those who own treadmills are happy with their purchase and use the machine at least as much as they had originally planned. Many experts recommend budgeting at least $1,000 for a quality treadmill, especially if you plan to do a lot of running. If you prefer walking or light jogging, you can get by with spending less.
Manual treadmills, which have no motor and must be powered by the user's walking motion, usually cost less than $200 and are at the bottom of the satisfaction list. Manual treadmills are set at a constant incline, which makes it easier to press the belt back with every step but also produces a much harder workout right off the bat. If you don't hold on to the handlebars as you walk, you might slide right off the back of the treadmill.
Small walking belts, short warranties and serious durability problems are common in this category, but some consumers are willing to overlook these issues in exchange for a lightweight, portable machine that can be stored almost anywhere.
Motorized treadmills around the $600 mark are best for walking and limited jogging. They usually don't have the necessary heft, power and stability -- or running space -- to stand up to frequent use or heavier users, although we did find one noteworthy exception to this rule: the Horizon T101-04 (Est. $630) . Once you pass the $1,000 price point, you'll find stronger motors; larger running belts; more stable frames; and longer, more comprehensive warranties.
Some treadmills come with novel features like iFit Live, which allows you to map out virtual-reality courses with Google Maps; the unit adjusts its incline to match the simulated terrain. That said, serious runners put a treadmill's sturdiness, power and controls ahead of showy features. The rare treadmills that can adjust to a negative incline are an exception to this rule because they offer a more realistic experience; we feature three such units in this report.
If you're interested in walking while you work -- whether to lose weight or just avoid the hazards of a sedentary lifestyle -- you can improvise a desktop across the handlebars of a regular treadmill. However, purpose-built treadmill desks are much safer. You don't have to worry about accidentally blocking access to the controls or tipping the "desk" off the handlebars. Treadmills meant specifically for use while working also have high-torque motors designed to withstand constant, slow speeds for hours at a time -- typically 1 to 2 mph.
Walking on a treadmill instead of sitting at a desk is a big commitment, but most owners who take the leap are thrilled to find themselves losing weight, incorporating more physical activity into their lives and just plain feeling better. "In the first day I casually walked to 17,000 steps [more than eight miles] without realizing it," writes one happy Amazon.com user who recently made the switch to a treadmill desk.