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Ten Thousand Steps

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

For years we have heard that taking ten thousand steps every day will make you healthier. And you don\’t need special clothing, footwear, or equipment. You can do your walking barefoot or in three-inch heels, in shorts or bespoke suits, up a mountain or in your kitchen. The principle has a pleasing Japanese-style simplicity about it, like those exquisite, barely-there flower arrangements. If I bring up Japan, it\’s because that is where the 10,000-step movement began.
It\’s a part of my \”shadow self\” that I can\’t seem to shake, the tendency to glom onto goals, regardless of their worth. Ten thousand steps–is there a number more absolute, majestic and compelling than that slender digit trailing four plump zeroes? Who could resist it? Not I.
But for a long time I couldn\’t find a pedometer (did I mention that you need a pedometer?) that counted steps accurately. Then recently I heard about a new generation of battery-powered gizmos that were supposed to do the job. I bought one, measured my stride as instructed, told it my height and weight, and clipped it to my waistband. Then I took Bisou for a walk.
I had no idea what I would find when I checked the count at bedtime. Would the day\’s harvest yield five hundred or five thousand steps? As it turned out, it was the latter. Not bad, for a baseline, but I was only halfway to my goal.
For the next couple of days I took Bisou for longer walks. In the evening, while watching TV, I set a kitchen timer for twenty-five minute periods, and each time it rang I got up and walked three times around the room. Every night the number on my pedometer grew. On Friday, it showed eight thousand steps.  On Saturday, I did it again.
On Sunday, I couldn\’t get out of bed.
On Monday, I was hobbling stiff-kneed around the kitchen when I heard a story on NPR that was sent to me personally by the universe. It turns out that the goal of 10,000 steps is not based on any kind of scientific evidence. It was promulgated in Japan decades ago by a pedometer manufacturer who wanted to sell more pedometers.
Now, a study of 17,000 women of a certain age shows that walking a mere 4,400 steps a day had a beneficial effect on the women\’s longevity. Some ambitious participants walked more, but after 7,500 steps there were no additional effects on longevity (possibly because their painful knees drove them to suicide).
Since hearing that story, I have abandoned my obsession with the 10,000 steps. I am not abandoning my pedometer, however, even though the numbers 4,400 or even 7,500 don’t have the same appeal. I have settled for a measly five thousand steps a day. My knees are already thanking me.
And when the next fitness craze hits, whether it be daily push-ups, jumping jacks, or handstands, I will strive to keep in mind the common sense views of my mother, who lived into her nineties without the aid of canes, walkers, joint replacements, or NSAIDs. She walked every day, making circuits inside the house when the weather was bad, but only for as long as she enjoyed it. 

She would have laughed at my pedometer. \”Why do you need a little machine,\” I can hear her saying, \”to tell you when you\’ve had enough?\”

6 Responses

  1. My respects for those 5k – I struggle to get a couple hundred!But I propel my walker backward with great pushes by the thigh muscles, to the astonishment of my new community. Maybe it will count for something – it leaves me exhausted (but gets me to the dining room or the pool).

  2. I read this when I was in Japan, checking my steps (tracked by my phone) daily, impressed as the numbers exceeded 20,000 almost daily, as we trekked around temples and museums and other sights to see. So once we discovered the bus systems in Korea, I wasn't unhappy to see the numbers fall! Also – I understand painful knees. Take care of them.

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