My New Best Friend

Well, I’ve posted before about the joys of legging it, walking back to happiness yada yada yada.  I’ve also hinted at diminishing waistlines and heroics on the football field.

But what are the benefits of increased physical activity?  (oh dear, he’s setting us up for a boring post about health and wellbeing again…)

Not true.  This is about gadgets!

Well, it’s partly about gadgets.  OK, it’s about one gadget, but it’s pretty neat.  The gadget in question is a pedometer. (Oh, is that all? [yawn] click…)

Ahem.  I got all interested because A) I now had to walk (or bike) everywhere and B) I was keen to get fit for football.  It’s funny how righteous you can be when you don’t have any choice.  I’m now some sort of evangelical exercise advocate amongst my colleagues and friends as if I’ve always jogged up and down hills and cycled 20km per day.

So I’m a bit of a fraud, but hey, at least I’m being active.

I had seen pedometers of course and like most of us was mystified as to how it could actually work (I mean, how can it tell I’m walking and not lifting my legs on the spot?) well the answer is: it doesn’t because the effect on your body is almost the same.  Movement of any kind, even gentle movement is beneficial to the body and your general health.  The more the merrier though.  I had heard about this 10,000 steps business through various people and wondered what it was all about.  All I knew was that 10,000 steps was apparently a minimum target for maintaining good health and wellbeing.  But where did this come from?  Why the magic number?  Was this pedometer company marketing propaganda?  Nobody seemed to know the specifics.  But more on that later…

I needed to find out and the first thing I did was to get myself a pedometer.  Ah.

Well, I was fascinated.  I thought I must have been pretty close to doing 10,000 with the walks up and down the hill to the bus stop and then maybe throw in a stroll at lunchtime etc. etc.  Just how far was I walking every day?  One person did warn me that ten thou was a lot harder to achieve than you think – it’s a lot of steps.  Well, we’ll see – and so I got myself a new best friend.

Typically me, if I was going to buy one of these things I had to look at every possible option, work out the value and get to know the very best quality models blah blah blah.  Endless browsing on Trade Me ensued.  In the end just as I was to buy the very best (and most expensive) pedometer I could find (it measured heart rate, blood sugar, IQ, translated languages, calculated stock trends and did your homework for you) I had a sudden attack of common sense and bought the smallest half decent one I could find – it had occured to me that the lumpy, bulky, heavily-featured models would potentially be awkward and uncomfortable to wear all day – and I wanted to calculate every step I took including around the office and up and down the stairs.  I found one that was the size of a credit card and about 5mm thick.  It slipped right into my pocket and away we go.

First thing you have to do is set the pedometer for your own normal walking stride (or the stride you want measured – so if it’s for running you set it to your running stride) by counting your steps over precisely 10 metres.  This is just so the pedometer can calculate the distance you’re walking.  However the beauty of  ‘steps’ and therefore the beauty of the 10,000 steps campaign is that for each individual a step is a step is a step – it’s not about the distance, it’s about the movement.

Righto. Flushed with anticipation and righteousness I set out for work with my not-so-flexible friend.  Resisting the temptation to check it every 20 steps or so I arrived at the bus stop on Norwich Quay and duly checked my account so far – 1136 steps.  Oh dear.  That was a major chunk of my walking for the day, on a normal day.  I saw the magic 10,000 receding and waving into the distance over the hills and far away.

Resolving to ‘score’ as many steps as my little competitive virgo brain could conceive without actually exerting myself more than I had to, I considered reverse pick-pocketing one of Lyttelton’s many harrier hill runners as they trotted past like burnished leather mountain goats.  But no.  I just needed to know what a typical day looked like so I had a baseline to work on. Ho hum.  Everyone harbours secret ideas of their own super-ability – no-one likes being exposed for the average person they really are.  A few masochists blog about it.

Wearing the pedometer every day from as soon as I was dressed until I undressed at night, I measured the amount of movement I did in a typical and not-so-typical day. (oooo – tell us tell us!)

On average, a ‘good’ day for me, in and out of the office (but one that didn’t include football or cycling) could see me making somewhere between 6-7000 steps.

A ‘not-so-good’ day (one without extra activity and where I didn’t get to walk at lunchtime) where I was mostly desk-bound might see me do as little as 5500 steps.  (Hey 10,000 steps, wait up!! huff puff…)

According to the 10,000 steps campaign, a general assessment of levels of activity – between 5000 – 7000 steps is considered ‘low active’.  Anything less than 5000 is considered ‘sedentary’.  Oh dear indeed…

I will post shortly on the references for this information and the 10,000 steps campaign which originated in Australia I discovered.  Of course it did, that land of tanned and buff beach bunnies right?

Wrong.  Latest World Health Organisation statistics on prevalence of obesity peg Australia at 12th out of 192 nations for the prevalence of obesity in the population of males aged 15+ – about 75.7% of that population is considered overweight.  The female population is acquitting itself quite a bit better ranking Australia at 41st with 66.5% of that population considered overweight.  Perhaps that’s where their good reputation comes from…

And for all you kiwis feeling a little smug right now: here’s a little pin to pop your bubble…

New Zealand is right behind our ‘bigger’ cousins with females aged 15+ seeing NZ ranked 17th for overweight or obesity (74.2% of that population) and 14th for males aged 15+ with about 73.9% of the population considered overweight or obese.  (And our National government is concerned with ‘closing the gap with Australia’.  No thanks).

Elizabeth began to take an interest in my little step obsession.

“I wonder how many steps I do every day?  Especially those days when I take the Bobbin to Busy C’s – there and back twice in a day.”  Busy C’s is across the other side of Lyttelton and up quite a steep hill.

“Well, 10,000 steps is quite a lot to achieve in one day” I said sagely.

“Still I’d like to know how I’m doing.”

“Of course you do, dear.” So I gave her the pedometer.  How’d she do?  Well, you can see for yourself:

My new best friend and I aren’t talking at the moment.