Life + Outdoors » Field Notes

10,000 Steps a Day


Just part of the pedometer display at Yodobashi Camera in Yokohama, Japan. - PHOTO BY ROB NIELSEN
  • Photo by Rob Nielsen
  • Just part of the pedometer display at Yodobashi Camera in Yokohama, Japan.

I'm a later-comer to pedometers, and probably would have been a no-comer if not for my iPod Nano. Who knew it had a pedometer function? I'm easily seduced by gadgets, and now carry it in my pocket from the moment I get out of bed in the morning. Ten thousand steps, that's my daily goal, which at my regular walking pace is a tad over five miles. That's the gazebo to Target and back, twice. I also wear it cycling, getting one "step" per pedal rotation, for bonus points. I guess I've joined the 10,000-step craze, which seems to have started in Japan in 1965 when a manpo-kei -- "10,000-step meter" -- came on the market.

Etymological aside: You know how in war movies the Japanese soldiers are always yelling, "Banzai!"? I thought it meant "Charge!" but literally it's "10,000 years," i.e. long live the emperor/Japan. And man -- same character as ban -- can also be rendered as "myriad," so manpo-kei can also mean, "myriad-step meter." You don't have to stop at 10,000.

Historical aside: Although Ben Franklin is usually credited with inventing the pedometer, truth is, he bought one in Paris during his ambassadorial tenure in France and introduced it to America. The original inventor was probably Leonardo da Vinci. The early designs were pendulum-operated, strapped to one's leg. Nowadays pedometers are all solid state, using a microelectromechanical system, or MEMS ("lab on a chip") to sense acceleration.

Where were we? Oh yes, 10,000 steps. So how does that rack up in terms of fitness? From my point of view, it's a good daily goal (which explains why I'll be out on the boardwalk at 11 pm some nights -- another 400 steps and I can go to bed!). But there's nothing magical about 10,000, despite its near-mythical status. After all, most of us rack up a few thousand steps a day anyway. The average office worker puts in 5,000 steps a day, and just 30 minutes of moderate-intensity walking takes about 4,000 steps.

Since many people use pedometers as an incentive to lose weight, let's look at those numbers. You have to burn 3,500 calories to lose a pound of fat, equivalent to a brisk 35-mile walk for a 150 lb. person. Going from totally sedentary to 10,000 steps (5 miles) a day will result in a weight loss of a pound a week, as long as you don't change your eating habits. But since most of us aren't totally sedentary, it's more reasonable to think of the 10,000 steps/day goal as adding, let's say, 2,000 steps (about a mile) to one's daily routine. That works out to 100 calories/day, or ten pounds over a year, which might be a worthy universal goal, especially as those middle-age-spread years approach.

Another subtle benefit for me is that I'm more aware of what I eat when I'm counting steps. It's as if my "unconscious self" has decided that putting in 10,000 steps a day makes me a better person, worth taking care of, so skip the cream-cheese bagel and get the hummus wrap already! Perhaps it's not so subtle, after all.

Barry Evans ( learned all his obsessions, including counting steps, from his wife. His first 80 Field Notes can be found at Eureka Books and Northtown Books.


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