Monday, February 15, 2010

The Walking Fool Takes A Journey of One Thousand Miles

I know you've heard the phrase. Someone with good intentions has probably said it to you. You might have even offered it as motivation to get a friend up and off their ass.  What advice? This:
The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
(Here's a Google search for the phrase. It gets almost 2 million hits.)

Of course it's a true statement.  Trite.  A logical tautology.  The proper response when someone says it is to roll your eyes.

But have you ever considered this question: How many more steps, after that first step, will it take for you to traverse one thousand miles? I'm here to answer that question. To learn the answer all you have to do is keep reading.

My story begins in January 2008 when I received this free pedometer from my doctors office.

Novo Nordisk pedometer which did work worth shit

My doctor wanted me to walk 10,000 steps per day.  This is apparently because "they" say 10,000 steps is enough exercise to provoke weight loss and prevent disease.  The actual number was probably not selected by a double-blind research study but more because it's a round, easy-to-remember high number.  I decided to try it out.  The Novo Nordisk unit worked just as well as you might expect a free pedometer to work: Not At All.  It recorded 24 steps, then it stopped.

But something clicked in my brain.  I thought "maybe a pedometer would spur me get more exercise".  I remembered a review I'd read in Wired Magazine about a spiffy modern high-tech pedometer made by a company called Omron - just the sort of filler article that might set a Wired editor's pulse a-racing.  Importantly, you could carry this Omron unit in a pocket or bag instead of being required to follow exacting restrictions on how to position it - like attaching it to your belt.  I ordered one.   (Buy your own at Amazon.  Right now they cost $23.08.) 

wonderful Omron pedometer

My Omron pedometer worked wonderfully.  Bouncing around in my pocket it still seemed to count every step.  Well, it claimed accuracy only within 5% - but that's still pretty good.

Within a couple of weeks I had gotten into the swing of the thing.  So much walking requires a lot of energy and time.  More time if, like me, you walk to Starbucks where you sit and read for a while before walking home.  But the good news is that I have kept to my regimen ever since - well over two full years.  I've missed my goal less than one day a month.  Really.

In the beginning it was a numbers game.  How many steps was it from here to the end of the block? (300)  How many steps to the nearest Starbucks? (1600)  If I had gone only 9999 steps at the end of the day then I had failed.  If I had 10,000 I was good.

Gradually I noticed other, more important, reasons for my daily walk: 
  • Walking became my preferred time for listening to music on my iPod.  Of course some music is not appropriate for walking down a noisy street.  But mostly I find it easier to concentrate on music while I'm walking than at any other time, even when I'm at a concert.
  • Walking is also a good way to come across some unexpected photo opportunities that I share here or at Mixed Messages.  Very few of these opportunities have resulted in my getting sworn at by unstable individuals.  The general mental health of Pasadena is exemplary. 
  • Walking is a very meditative activity for me.  When pressed I do admit to having meditated informally for many years.  I think the mental relaxation aspect of 10,000 steps per day is what has turned my walk from mere exercise into the most important part of my day.
wonderful Omron pedometer

Besides reporting the total number of steps, the Omron pedometer also measures "aerobic steps".  You must walk steadily for a certain period of time (I think it's twenty minutes) before it starts counting aerobic steps.  If you stop too long you must walk for that period again before the count resumes.  This picture shows that I'd walked 8513 aerobic steps and that they took me 76 minutes.  On the same day I walked 11,826 regular steps, so about 70% of my steps were actual exercise.  Of course on other days I might go for an "amble" instead a walk - walking more slowly and stopping more.  That makes the resultant number of aerobic steps much lower.

Another screen estimates the number of calories burned.  This number comes out dreadfully low.  I haven't lost any weight from all my walking because I still like to eat like an idiot.  But my Doctor is thrilled with my lower blood test numbers.

Finally, the pedometer measures distance covered based on an approximation of the length of my stride.   It tells me that 10,000 steps represents over 3 miles per day.  In this picture you can see that I walked 3.71 miles (and that the picture was taken at 11:22 P.M.)

wonderful Omron pedometer

So now I'm ready to answer the question I posed at the beginning: How many total steps does it take to walk one thousand miles?  The answer naturally varies according how long your step is.  If you're 6'9" or 5'2 the number will be different.  But for me I need roughly three and a quarter million steps to cover a thousand miles.  This takes me a little less than one year of walking.

Remember that figure the next time someone tells you how beginning the long journey of one thousand miles requires only a mere, simple, single step.  Pop their meddlesome balloon, they deserve it.

It's hardest for me to do my walk on rainy days.  Fortunately we don't have many such days here in sunny SoCal.  But last week we had a corker - pouring rain with thunder and lightning.  Much to Leslie's amusement I drove several miles through the maelstrom to the Santa Anita Mall where I managed to put in all my steps.  The mall was dry and it was boring.  One round trip from Macy's to Penny's and back was only a thousand steps.  And I had to avoid all those slow moving shoppers as I zipped along.  To amuse myself I took a few pictures.  Here's one which seems like a good ending twist for this post:
a baby cart, a man and a kangaroo at the Santa Anita mall

An L.A. Times article about pedometer use.

Wikipedia's Pedometer Entry

Read about how buying an iPod at the Apple Store required fewer questions from the clerk than buying an ice coffee at Starbucks.

Pedometer Tags: . . . . . . . . .


Pasadena Adjacent said...

The greatest amount of google traffic leading to my blog is from the search "every morning I wake up and wish I were dead" I used it in reference to a Tammy Faye quote but I grew concerned so I put in a suicide hotline link on that particular post.

Got my pedometer at McDonalds. It lasted a bit longer then yours.

I do a daily walk also and I have a cover of Ockers on it.I listen to you when I'm going downhill

ericnp said...

I tried an iPod Touch app StepTrack Lite and it didn't seem very accurate. I don't really like walking with that iPod anyway but I couldn't do my walks without an iPod for the same reasons you mention. I take the smallest one I have instead.

To measure I use Google Earth and its Ruler tool. Each north/south block in my hood is .12 miles and each east/west block is .08 miles. The cyclometer on my bicycle verifies that. Knowing this I can modify the walk and keep a pretty good idea of how long my walks are. If I stop to take a picture I pick up the pace right after. If I stop or slow down to talk with somebody I add a "penalty" block, two or three. I love my walks, there is so much ritual to it and little games I play but if the iPod dies, I gotta get home.