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Every Step You Take

I got a pedometer last week.  I’ve been thinking that it would be interesting to have one for a while now and then I heard some news stories on studies showing that being inactive for long periods of time (say, sitting at your desk all day) is harmful to your health1, regardless of if you engage in physical activity at other times.  So, while going out for a run  is good for you, you can lose some of that goodness by sitting around all day in between runs.   And I do *a lot* of sitting.  My job primarily involves working at my desk or sitting in my car driving to meetings or focus groups or interviews, where I sit.

The materials that came with the pedometer said that the average person is sedentary, taking somewhere between 1,000-3,000 steps per day.  The recommendation is to aim for about 10,000 steps per day (or about 7 km).  But before trying to do that, it suggests that you spend a few days wearing the pedometer and following your usual routine, to see where you are starting from.  And then try to add more steps gradually, until you are up to 10,000 steps per day.  Easy-peasy, right?

The first day I had it I took only ~4,600 steps during the day – and that was a day where I had an off-site meeting which involved a fair bit of walking.  After going on my 10 km run that evening, I clocked in at 18,342 steps, but it was shocking to me that a workday that involved an above-average amount of walking, I was still taking less than half the recommended 10,000 steps!

The next day I had meetings at different sites – which meant a few rounds of walking to and from my car to meeting locations, plus I went out for dinner with a couple of friends in Vancouver in the evening, and parked a few blocks away and walked.  I still only took 5,884 steps.

The day after that I spent the day in the office and went out to an event in the evening.  I took a total of 4,345 steps.

The day after that was absolutely atrocious.  I had meetings offsite, but spend the whole day in the one location and really only walked from the parking lot to building.  And then stayed in that night.  I only took 2,561 steps in the whole day!

The following day was a Saturday, so I wasn’t in the office.  I ran some errands and went to the Night Market, where we walked around a fair bit.  Total for the day: a much more respectable, though still not sufficient, 8,710 steps.

On the Sunday I forgot to wear my pedometer, but that was because I got up at the crack of dawn to run a half marathon. I’m not worried that I didn’t meet the 10,000 step goal that day!

Monday was a work day where I was out for some meetings, made a point of walking to the corner store during the break and then ran some errands on the way home.  Total for the day: 5,108 steps – just more than half the recommended daily total.

And Tuesday was a day that I spent squirreled away in my office, working feverishly on a report I needed to get done.  I stayed at work 1.5 hrs longer than a normal workday to finish it, so by the time I got home I just wanted to sit on my coach and relax.  Total for the day: 4,399 steps – though I think many of these were added by my dancing around my apartment as I made dinner.

And now, because I cannot possess quantitative data without turning it into a graph, I give you a graph2:

steps

So it’s pretty clear that I need to do more activity during the day!  But I’m struggling with ways to do that.  Some of the most common suggestions for increasing activity throughout the day I either already do3 or cannot do4.  Taking transit is not an option where I work (especially because I so often have to drive to meetings all over the Lower Mainland) and there aren’t really good cycling routes in Surrey as far as I can tell (and again, many days I need my car to drive to meetings in other cities anyway, which rules out cycling to work). This all is a stark reminder of how much more healthy an environment I had when I lived and worked in Vancouver – I walked a few blocks each way between my bus stop and my work, I climbed up 5 flights of stairs to get to my office and back down 5 flights of stairs to leave my office, and I could walk to my grocery and produce stores instead of driving!

Going out for a run, or even a walk, after work is good, but it clearly isn’t enough to maximize health – I need to find ways to be more active during the day.  I would love to be able to get one of those treadmill desks5, but my work doesn’t have the money or the space for such a thing.  I’m thinking right now that my best bet will be to make a concerted effort to take stretch breaks at work – at least this will get the blood flowing and kick my body out of its sit-related lethargy.  And then to make more of an effort to go for a walk or run every day to get that step count up!

Anyone have any other suggestions for increasing activity that would be feasible for a desk jockey who works in the ‘burbs?

  1. notably causing increased blood sugar and decreased HDL (the so-called “good”) cholesterol levels []
  2. the number of steps taken for the half marathon on Sunday were estimated based on those taken to complete the Monday night 10 km run.  There should be “during the day” steps taken on Sunday, but since I forgot to wear the pedometer, I have no idea how many []
  3. e.g., take the stairs.  I always take the stairs instead of the elevator, but I live in a basement and work only on the second floor of my office building, so it doesn’t add all that much []
  4. e.g., park further away.  At my office, we are only allowed to park in the small parking lot directly behind the building.  If we park in any of the adjacent lots, which belong to other businesses, we’ll be towed. And street parking is time-limited, so we can’t park on the street either []
  5. how awesome would that be? []

5 Responses to Every Step You Take

  1. Jen B says:

    Wow that’s crazy. Maybe I should get one and check it out. I actually just mentioned to Gerry that my hips hurt from sitting in the car so much! And when my parents were here (who live in the country and drive every where as a result), they both commented on how much walking Andrew and I do. And I was trying to take the bus more often so they didn’t feel that way!

    So… my suggestion is to hang out on the seawall with your friend Jen more often 🙂

  2. Beth says:

    I *love* your suggestion! I’ll bring my pedometer to our next seawall walk and we can find out how many steps it is!

    When do you want to go for our next seawall walk?

  3. extragoode says:

    I am an eternal pessimist about technology (I’m a programmer, I get disappointed less that way) and rather more optimistic about everything else. I don’t see how you could concentrate on getting any work done at one of those treadmill desks, plus I think it looks really stupid, but I haven’t tried it so maybe it’s worthwhile and I don’t worry too much about looks anyway.

    The problem I’ve had with pedometers is accuracy. I’ve tried them out before and they usually read 10-50 steps WHILE I’M SITTING because apparently I’m a fidgeter. To me, that doesn’t count as steps. While that doesn’t completely negate daily cumulative numbers, I just can’t bring myself to confidently say “I walked __ steps today”. They do seem to be pretty good general indicators of activity. Maybe it’s the programmer in me, but if I’m going to get a cumulative measure of general activity I want more resolution than just activity/not activity. Give me a 3 axis accelerometer in a keychain that shows me the sum of all the forces applied to it. Now that’s a general activity measurement. Even better, put wirelessly linked ones on each limb, oh and calibrate it by mass and distance from joint! Yeah, I’m a nerd.

  4. I got a free pedometer at a conference once, and it was rubbish – it didn’t pick up some steps, and then the count would shoot up for no reason while it was sitting on a table.

    I cycle to work, but I then spend hours on end sitting at my desk. I try to get out of the building at least once per day, but depending on deadlines it doesn’t always happen. I’ve thought about getting one of those balls to sit on instead of a chair – apparently it keeps your core muscles engaged almost all the time and burns a few more calories per hour than sitting on a chair. Plus it’s more fun.

    I’d probably just fall off the treadmill desk.

  5. Beth says:

    @extragoode – Yeah, I’ve had my pedometer register “steps” while I’m driving – the Smart car isn’t known for it’s suspension system, so apparently the bumping up and down during the drive registers as steps. I’ve taken to opening up the pedometer while I drive, as it doesn’t seem to register any steps then. I don’t expect my pedometer to give me the exact number of steps, but rather more of an indication of relative number of steps (like “I walked roughly twice as much yesterday as today.”

    @Cath – I had an exercise ball to sit on in my last office – and though it does keep your core muscles engaged more than a chair, you still are basically in the same position all day, so I’m not sure what that would mean for the other effects of sitting all day (like raised blood sugar, etc.). The Occupational Health office at my current work doesn’t recommend them though – apparently there’s too much risk off people falling off them! lol!

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