Watch Your Steps!

The punk rock duo The Proclaimers are Scottish twins Craig and Charlie Reid. Now 58, the Reid’s were born just a month after I was, back in 1962. Even though The Proclaimers produced eleven albums and sold five million copies, I only know them for their 1988 chart-topper, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”. It’s the song thrumming in my head every time I’m close to getting my 10,000 steps for the day.

5,514.  Good Lord, I’m only halfway to my 10,000 steps today and it’s already two in the afternoon.  I need to get moving.  I even worked out this morning (lifting doesn’t get you many steps).  As usual, I strapped on my (Fitbit) tracker immediately after waking up but I’m usually further along by now.  I’m gonna have to go long with the dog tonight if I have any shot at making the magic number.

Magic number?  10,000 steps?  Who made this the “minimum for good health”?  A Japanese pedometer company; that’s who.  In 1965, they nicknamed one of their trackers the “10,000 step meter” and the number stuck all these years later.  Not that 10,000 steps has any significance when it comes to health benefits.  It’s all relative to whatever number you normally walk.  For that reason, we Americans can go less than half the 10,000 and still lower our mortality rate in a big way.

If you’re reading this post and you’re Amish, you’re already pooh-poohing 10,000 steps.  You and your people average 14,000-18,000/day just by removing motor vehicles from your world.  If you’re Australian or Swiss, 10,000 is just another day in the outback or the Alps (yodelayheehoo!).  Even the Japanese find a way to average 7,500 steps/day inside a small island nation.  Bringing up the rear?  The Americans, of course (drum roll, please…).  We clock an average of 4,800 steps a day – downright pathetic for residents of the fourth largest land-mass country in the world.  Is it any coincidence the U.S. makes and sells more vehicles than any other country besides China?

Source: Pedro F. Saint-Maurice, National Cancer Institute

Back to the “magical” 10,000 steps.  Let’s diminish the facts, shall we?  A recent collaborative five-year study of 15,000+ participants determined as few as 4,400 steps a day associates to a 40% reduction in mortality rate (when the norm is more like 2,700 steps).  Make it to 7,500 steps and the mortality rate drops by 65%.  In other words, you’re doing your body good well below 10,000 steps.  Unless you’re Amish, Australian, or Swiss.  Sorry, you people have to keep going.

Alas, no collaborative study nor determined blog post is going to change the world’s obsession with 10,000 steps.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services instead recommends five hours of moderate exercise a week (or half that much in “vigorous” exercise).  Doctors prefer a rather vague recommendation of “about 2,000 steps more than you normally walk”.  But none of that shuts down tracker production: 33 million devices shipped in the first quarter of this year alone.  You know who you are; doing mindless laps in the kitchen late at night just to “close your rings”.  10,000 steps remains the benchmark no matter the expert advice.

Close those rings!

Speaking for Americans at least, the magic number really is burned into our culture.  We’ve switched out our most glam watches for fitness trackers (because even a Rolex can’t count steps).  We download apps, print out weekly results, and obsess over “rings”, consecutive days, and “personal bests”.  We get cheap thrills when our tracker vibrates 10,000 and those little digital fireworks shower the screen.  Companies offer employees financial incentives if they can demonstrate extended habits of 10,000+/day.  We are beguiled of time and money for this fairly arbitrary number.

[Side note: The other day I woke up and checked my Fitbit history, only to discover I’d hit 9,999 steps the day before.  Didn’t bum me out; still strapped on the tracker and started a new day.  Kinda proud of that.  On the other hand, one time I strapped my tracker to my ankle to try to get “steps” out of a cycle class.  Didn’t work.  Not so proud of that.]

The pertinent lyrics of The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be” go like this:  But I would walk 500 miles, And I would walk 500 more, Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles, To fall down at your door.  No wonder I’ve got that song on the brain.  I don’t think I’d walk a thousand miles, even for my girl.  But I would walk five miles (about 10,000 steps) to hit my daily tracker goal.

Some content sourced from the 6/12/2020 Wall Street Journal article, “10,000 Steps a Day Is A Myth.  The Number to Stay Healthy Is Far Lower”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Behind Bars

Every now and then I crave a Kellogg’s Frosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tart. You can debate the matter and say the fruit Tarts are better – Strawberry, Cherry, and Blueberry – and I’ll give you those, but I stand by my boring-looking Brown Sugar Cinnamon. Maybe that’s because I consumed hundreds of them as a kid, piping hot from the toaster.

Somehow Pop Tarts eluded the otherwise healthy content of my mom’s pantry.  You’d walk in to dozens of those little red boxes of raisins, a pretty good assortment of nuts (which were more meant for recipes than snacking), and the occasional graham cracker.  The fruit and veggie drawers in the frig were loaded and there was always a gallon of milk on hand.  Yet there they were, in foil-wrapped packages of two: Kellogg’s Pop Tarts.  I wish I could see the ingredients list from the 1970’s versions versus those of today’s Tarts.  Surely the former leaned more towards “real food” and less towards chemicals, or my mom would’ve never gone for them.

Pop Tarts now come in twenty-seven varieties, which by any standard is ridiculous. Who wouldn’t be happy with the four I already mentioned? (Okay, let’s add Frosted Chocolate Fudge and call it good).  Do we really need options like “Wildlicious Wild! Cherry”, or “Confetti Cupcake”? Apparently so, because that’s where our demand for choices has taken us. The new approach to snacks: invent one, sell enough to get them into everyday conversation, then evolve to twenty-seven varieties.  Have you seen your options with Oreo’s these days?  I rest my case.

The other day I traveled down the cereal aisle of our grocery store for the first time in a long time (we have house guests). I was shocked to discover the “healthy cereal” section is just as big as the space reserved for regular cereals. Even more interesting, the overhead signs on the aisle first announce “Cereals”, followed by “Granola” a little further down, followed by “Diet and Fitness” a little further than that.  The entire aisle feels like the same kind of food, only you start with boxes, morph to bags, and end up with little bars.  I’d love to know the combined total grams of protein in the products in the “Diet and Fitness” section.  Gotta be ten thousand or more.

Fun facts: Americans now choose from over 400 brands of “healthy” bars, in 4,000 varieties.  At $6 billion in 2012, the healthy bar market was only 17% as big as that of savory snacks ($34 billion) but growing in a hurry.  American children consume almost 500 calories a day in snacks.  The routine starts when we’re young.

Snack bars seem to be almost-entirely carbs or almost-entirely protein. I won’t comment on the first variety because I don’t eat them (I’ve moved on from Pop Tarts), and I don’t even see the carb variety because our store puts them over in the cookie aisle. But protein bars are a challenging enough decision. For starters, are protein bars a “snack” or a “meal”? Many are advertised as “meal-replacements”. Others look small enough to be snacks. Even the ever-present “Nutrition Facts” label doesn’t really lend a hand, except to confirm you’re taking in more calories and sugar than you’d hoped.

I belong to Lifetime Fitness here In Colorado, a gym which stresses “healthy lifestyle” in everything they offer, whether personal training sessions, workout classes, spa treatments, or a cafeteria full of healthy choices. The mantra I hear like a broken record: “carb-up” at least an hour before the workout; “protein-up” within 45 minutes after. I’m sure some would dispute that approach, but regardless, it suggests a “snack” before AND after a workout.  And as I stand in “Diet and Fitness”, I ask myself, “Is that snack half of a “meal-replacement” bar?  Two or three of the “fun-size”?  Scrap the whole aisle and go with fruit and cheese instead?”

For my money, snack bars before and/or after a workout neither benefit the short run nor ease the long run. It’s kind of like my daily multi-vitamins: no clue whether they help me either (but I still take them). This much I know: I need to have a somewhat full stomach before I work out. On that note, maybe I’ll just skip the “Diet and Fitness” aisle from now on and go back to Pop Tarts.

Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article, “Our Misplaced Mania for ‘Healthy’ Snacks”.

consonance

I belong to a fitness club; one of those national brands where the facility is many floors and many rooms.  It’s so big you sometimes feel like you’ll get lost.

3 - consonance

For the most part I stick to the cardio area because I like the treadmills.  And here’s an interesting observation.  If you choose to work out towards the back of the room you are witness to more than a hundred other machines in front of you: treadmills, steppers, rowers, and cycles, all standing in neat rows and ready to use.  Late on a weekday afternoon when the place is at capacity we have the look and sound of a hive of bees hard at work, each with his or her own task.  We move in different ways and at different speeds, but it’s as if we are working in harmony towards a common goal.  We are in consonance.

Here’s another observation.  Watching others work out can be entertaining.  I am one of those who prefers to keep my eyes and ears open while I huff and puff.  I don’t wear ear buds nor do I bring an iPod.  I don’t get lost in the dozens of televisions (big screens on the wall or small screens on the machines).  Instead, I just observe those around me.  There is an endless variety of behaviors.  Last week I jogged next to a singer.  That was a first.  He was listening to something on his iPod and singing along without a care in the world.  Another day I noticed two women walking side-by-side on the treadmills, lost in conversation with each other.  They were practically turned toward each other as they talked, which made me wonder how they didn’t fall off and whether their mouths or their bodies were getting the better workout.

Invariably I see people staring straight ahead into their little televisions, headphones firmly in place, glazed look in their eyes, lost in some program or music video.  Like my singer friend, the room around them could be on fire and they probably wouldn’t notice.

Inevitably, someone will take a call on their cell phone during a workout.  I’ll give that person about thirty seconds before my body language starts to say “annoyed”.  Anything considered an emergency can be communicated in thirty seconds or less.  Anything that really is an emergency should have the person jumping off their machine and heading out the door.  But most cell phone talk in the gym is worthless, of course.  Do these people prolong their conversations just to make sure the listener knows they are at the gym?

Lastly there are those who simply overdo it.  You know the type.  The super-athlete who cranks up the treadmill so high his legs are a blur and he’s just short of flying off the belt.  The older guy whose breathing is so labored you wonder if he’s about to keel over.  The girl who dresses in bright colors, and you wonder if her slow, deliberate pace on the stair-climber is because she’s tired, or because she simply wants you to notice her.

It used to bother me if someone came to the gym and – like the examples above – showed some indication their workout was not necessarily their first priority.  Now I realize I’m just observing coping mechanisms.  There is a physical component and a mental component to working out, and yes there is sometimes even a social component.  Whatever the ingredients, the unintentional entertainment provided by my “coworkers” is enough to make my workouts faster and more enjoyable.  I thank them for that!