Jessie Raymond: Trying to keep fit, one step at a time

How many steps do I take in a day?
Better question: Why would I care?
I care because I’m one of those people who get caught up in quantifying everything in order to tell how healthy they are. The trendy metric these days is steps: You need to take 10,000 of them a day.
The number is no doubt arbitrary (brought to you by the same people who decreed that eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day was essential to basic survival). And “healthy,” of course, is a vague term. I assume it refers to your cardiovascular health, but it could mean your skeleto-muscular health, or your mental health, or even your dog’s health (since most of the walking I do, at least, is for my dog’s benefit).
At first I was less concerned about getting 10,000 steps a day than I was about learning how many steps I generally take. Am I a lazy 500-step-a-day walker? Or do I blow past the 10,000 steps and routinely hit 15,000, or even 20,000? A figure like that would not only make me doubly healthy, but would also be a statistic I could drop into conversation to simultaneously impress and annoy people.
First, I had to figure out how to log my steps. I tried counting in my head, but, thanks to my short attention span, I lost track after 11.
Then I looked at the various fitness gizmos on the market that do everything from count your steps to track your heart rate, your calories burned and the amortization on your mortgage. The deluxe models even monitor how much time you’ve wasted checking them every five minutes to see if you’re meeting your step quota.
These devices can be worn on your wrist or clipped to your sleeve or belt. The good ones, however, are quite expensive, and the only thing I ever hear about them is how much it costs to replace one after you’ve run it through the washing machine.
Fortunately, I already had an expensive gadget I could put to work: my iPhone. Need a pedometer? There’s an app for that.
I downloaded a free step counter and tested it out by walking around the house. Thirteen steps to the living room. Twenty-eight steps to the mailbox. At that rate, it was going to take some work to hit 10,000 — and that I assumed I’d remember to carry my phone at all times.
After only a few days, I’ve discovered that I’m far less active than I thought. Good news: A simple 40-minute walk with the dog gets me nearly halfway to my daily step goal. Bad news: On a normal day, all of my steps during the remaining 16 waking hours don’t get me the rest of the way.
This new awareness of how little I move over the course of the day has encouraged me to incorporate extra steps whenever I can. I’ve started walking to work now and then and parking a little farther away from the stores when I go shopping.
I pace the hallway while I’m brushing my teeth, and go the long way around the kitchen island when I need something out of the fridge. The app has also indirectly encouraged me to walk more; even though they don’t get counted, I take at least 1,000 steps a day just looking for my phone.
But sometimes I wonder, as I’m taking a lap or two around the coffee table before sitting down to watch TV: Has it really come to this? When did walking, one of the most basic human functions, become a novelty rather than an integral part of existence?
Way back when, walking wasn’t a goal; it was a necessity. You can bet when people had to plant their crops by hand and lug their own water 100 yards from the well, their measure of a successful day wasn’t based on how many steps they had taken. They were more proud of, say, not dying of starvation.
It’s a sad commentary on our modern culture that I am letting a random number on a screen dictate my activity level. But the bottom line is that life these days just doesn’t demand enough of our bodies. The only way to fight a sedentary lifestyle is to contrive unnecessary — and, some would say, ridiculous — reasons to keep moving.
It’s a conclusion I reached this afternoon while I was bringing in the mail — one piece at a time.
Hey, you do what you gotta do.

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