Let’s Hear it for 10,000 Steps

Last week I saw a headline in the Wall Street Journal: 10,000 Steps a Day is a MYTH! (Caps and exclamation mark are both mine.)  And to quote any number of cowboys in any number of old Westerns, as far as I’m concerned, “Them’s fightin’ words!”

I didn’t bother reading the article. I didn’t need to. I know. I know The dirty little secret the reporters have recently uncovered is this: When Japanese health researchers started recommending 10,000 steps a day as a good health regimen, the pedometer they used to count steps didn’t go over 10,000, so 10,000 was it. The problem is, I’ve heard this story before with the underlying message being, you don’t really need to walk all 10,000. In fact, 4,500 a day is more than enough. And furthermore, since getting 10,000 steps a day is a phony goal, why bother?

Why indeed!!! Consider this for a moment. Have you ever seen a headline that says: Jogging May be Bad for your Knees or Participating in Marathons Could be Fatal or Forget Whole Marathons; Partial Ones are Fine or Riding Bikes Can Be Dangerous to Your Health. If you happen to see any headlines that hint in that direction, please send them my way, because, like unicorns, I don’t believe they actually exist.

After all, runners and bicycle riders are golden and walkers are … well … not only old and insignificant, they’re also pretty much athletically challenged. That was certainly true in my case. It took two semesters of beginning swimming at the University of Arizona for me to be able to get from one end of the pool to the other. In grade school, my participation in kickball, dodge ball, and volley ball mostly resulted in my glasses being broken. My depth perception was such that I never saw a ball coming in my direction until it literally hit me in the face. As for running laps in PE? How do you spell exertional asthma?

For years when it came time for the “exercise” question in my annual physicals, my standard reply was: I get my exercise by jumping to conclusions. But five years ago, at age 69, that same doctor finally got my attention—primarily due to my husband’s health as opposed to my own. As a result, we both started walking. It was, as Helen Reddy would say, a long hard climb to get from approximately 1,500 steps a day to 10,000. I would have to rest every 500 to 750 steps, and sit long enough to catch my breath. I would wake up in the morning and think, “Oh, my God! I’ve got to walk 10,000 steps today!” And more than once, I was walking laps inside the house at 11 PM, hoping to make the magic number before turning into a step pumpkin at twelve midnight. By the way, when I started walking I weighed 265 pounds and wore size 26 pants. While I’m writing this today, I weigh 204.6 (I was down to 199, but who’s counting? Covid lockdown has cost me five pounds) In addition, I’m wearing size 14 pants. SIZE FOURTEEN!!!

This morning I got up and marched through my ten, in 500-step convoluted laps out on the pool deck before the clock hit ten. I did my walking in my robe in total privacy. No one except the occasional helicopter passing overhead can see me there. (Based on the flyover times, my guess is the passenger is some Microsoft bigwig who uses a chopper to get back and forth from Medina to the Microsoft campus east of here. And if he’s interested in a seventy-something doing laps around her pool in her robe, so be it!)

Having read the Wall Street Journal headline rather than the article itself, I’m nonetheless reasonably sure that it says the same thing an earlier article somewhere else said—that you can gain the same health advantages by walking far fewer steps. Do you know what? I DON’T CARE!! That 10,000 step goal is MY goal and that’s not a myth. In the beginning hitting 10,000 was aspirational. Now it’s my daily fare. The pedometer app on my iPhone gives me a bright green bar on the screen every time I make my goal and a red bar or an orange bar depending on how badly I’ve missed it. Red is anything under 5000. Orange is from 5,000 to 10,000. I happen to know that my phone can count a lot higher than 10,000. At this very minute, having chatted by phone and doing socially distanced walking with my daughter during her lunch, I’m at 14,226.

It takes close to two hours to do my steps. I count that as two hours a day that I’m investing in my health. No matter what the Wall Street Journal says, that’s not a myth, either.

Last night, my second Fitbit bit the dust, and I probably won’t replace it. I’ve consistently found that it’s an easier grader than my iPhone is, hitting the “you’re done” button 500 to 700 steps before the iPhone clocks in. I’ve always preferred hard graders. Lately I’ve mostly used the Fitbit to tell the time when I wake up in the middle of the night. But it turns out, with the nightlight in the bathroom, I don’t really need that either.

Right now the pedometer tells me that since I’ve been keeping track with the Pedometer++ App, I’ve walked 8,000,102 steps since I started keeping track on the iPhone. My goal earlier in the week was to hit that number by Friday when the blog posts. I actually made the grade late on Wednesday afternoon. The pedometer tells me that 8,000,000 steps are enough to make the trip from New York City to San Francisco. Naturally I hit the easy button to make that trip. I didn’t cross mountain passes in raging blizzards or cross deserts in searing heat. No, I did my steps in the back yard or around the pool deck or even inside the house if the weather didn’t suit me. Why did I do them? Because I could, and because I simply love seeing all those green bars lined up next to one another.

And if you’re interested in which one of Aesop’s Fables happens to be my favorite, the answer to that would be: The Tortoise and the Hare. Slow but steady gets you there. I may have taken the better part of five years to make the grade, but I’ve now walked as far as the Transcontinental Railroad. Good for me!

And again, if you happen to see one of the above mentioned headlines about marathons being bad for you, please be sure to send it my way.

P.S. The Big Guy, our nine year-old koi in our back yard pond, poked his nose out from under his rock shelf yesterday, having survived our marauding blue heron for another year. I’ve mourned him every year when he’s been invisible , but just like Arnold, he’ll be back.