Monday, February 1, 2010

The Journey of 10,000 Steps

Like almost everybody else in the country during the first months of the year, I’m trying to get back in shape through diet and exercise. Since lots of other people are doing the same thing, there are also a lot of experts on TV and in the newspapers right now cheering us on and/or giving us tips. Avoid white foods, they say (oh, you mean like cauliflower and tofu? No problem). Keep a food diary, they say (so do I include the samples at the grocery store or are those free calories since I consume them while pushing my cart?). And for exercise, just walk 10,000 steps a day, and you’ll be fine.

This last one is the one that really gets me right now. It’s always delivered with a bright smile and an “exercise is much easier than you think” introduction. Just 10,000 steps, they say, implying that you must already be doing around 9,000 or so. 10,000 is just a slight bump upward. Right?

Okay, this is what they don’t tell you. Ten thousand steps is equivalent to around four to five miles for the average person. Now some jobs and some lifestyles may actually include four to five miles of walking per day—my guess is that ER nurses may do something like that, and maybe waitresses in big restaurants. But most of us? Nah.

According to my trusty pedometer, if I don’t hit the treadmill, I usually do around 2,000 steps, or 3,000 if I’m running around a lot. If I do my usual three miles on the treadmill, that bumps it up to 7,500 steps, and over the course of the day I may be able to push it up to 8,000 or 9,000. To make it all the way to 10,000 consistently, I have to do three and a half miles on the treadmill. That plus running around at home (where we have a couple of flights of stairs) will reliably push me over 10,000 steps.

I’m willing to admit that 10,000 is a nice, healthy goal—for a lot of us, it may lead to some weight loss since it’s more activity than most people do regularly. What I object to is the sort of sneaky way the exercise people go about getting us to do it. Instead of saying, “It’ll take some time, but 10,000 steps will provide real benefits” they act as if 10,000 steps is, well, no big deal. And there’s also something sort of sneaky about calling it 10,000 steps in the first place. If somebody says “We all should be doing 10,000 steps every day to be healthy,” the average person (who has no idea how many steps she or he actually does on a daily basis) is likely to say “Okay, why not?” On the other hand, if somebody were to say “We all should be walking four or five miles every day to be healthy,” the average person might respond, “Are you nuts? I don’t have time to walk four or five miles a day, healthy or not.”

Everybody seems to agree that Americans need to eat less and exercise more. And one reliable way to get people to exercise more is to get them to walk a little more every day. But why not just be honest about it—10,000 steps isn’t a walk in the park. Unless that park is, say, the Grand Canyon, and you’re headed for the bottom. So tell me to get 10,000 steps, but please live out words like “just” and “only.” It’s not “just 10,000 steps”—it’s 10,000 freakin’ steps and it takes a while.

So how about you? Found any helpful exercise tips lately?


Erin Nicholas said...

I'm with ya' Meg. I exercise only because I know there are so many good reasons to do it. Not cuz I like it, not cuz of any endorphine high... I can get that, ahem, other ways!

But I will say that my Kindle has helped me get on the treadmill more. It's easier to prop up on the rack and read than a book (especially when you can up the font!) and the stories make the 45 minutes go pretty fast!

PG Forte said...

Oh, this totally cracked me up.

Yeah, a couple of years ago I, too, bought a pedometer spurred on by the "just 10,000 steps" siren call. Since I suffer from the double handicap of being both chronically math-challenged and hopelessly literal when it comes to semantics, when I see the words "just" and "only" connected to a number I tend to believe we're talking about something manageable.

Gym membership is my top goal for this month, and I'm hoping that will jump-start my stalled exercise program because, I actually do enjoy exercise, when I can motivate myself to actually do it. Currently, that's not happening.

Right now, I'm such a full time desk jockey I think it could be taking me a week or more to get those 10,000 steps in.

Kelly Jamieson said...

I always wondered just how much 10,000 steps was. I have a pedometer but lost the instructions and can't figure out how to use it (math AND tech challenged, here). I guess I'll go wondering how many steps I take in day (not enough!)

Meg Benjamin said...

Thanks, Erin, I needed somebody to verify that you could really use a Kindle on a treadmill. I keep having visions of mine bouncing off and ending up in pieces on the floor! My pedometer is reasonably easy to use, but every time I use up the battery I have to recalculate my stride.