Steps

Last week’s Musing was about the “burglar step.” This week, I’ve been thinking about steps in general. I suppose that’s a step in the right direction.

Not too long ago, some wag came up with the bright idea that I would need to take 10,000 steps a day (about five miles) to become my best self. I have two bones to pick with that assessment: why 10,000, and what, pray tell, is “my best self?” Do I have another?

A scratch of research suggests that the Fitbit Company came up with the 10,000 steps-a-day idea. Of course, they did. They reasoned that if they could successfully promote the idea of 10,000 steps per day, then people would have to buy something that could count all those steps. In other words, the good folk at Fitbit invented a compelling need for a product they had just built. I bet P.T. Barnum—the most successful promoter in the history of promotion—would have loved Fitbit! But then if you stop to think about it, maybe it was just as well that Fitbit turned stepping into counting. What a less-than-wonderful-world this would be if everyone walked around counting their steps all day instead of constantly looking at their cell phones! Come to think of it, maybe we’d be better off counting our steps because there sure isn’t much conversation in the coffee shop these days.

But hold on. I scratched a little more and It turns out there’s another theory about the 10,000 steps per day goal. Just after the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, a Japanese clock maker, hoping to capitalize on the fitness craze that was sweeping his nation, came up with a pedometer with a name that when written in Japanese characters resembled a walking man. It also translated as a “10,000 steps meter,” thereby creating a new norm for walking. If that is indeed the case, then maybe Fitbit is off the hook. They just picked up where that Japanese clock-maker left off.

But there’s still that pesky issue of me becoming my “best self.” Once upon a time, I was feeling pretty good about myself until someone suggested there was a better version of me out there, one rooted in the 10,000 steps per day routine. Now, if I don’t meet my daily step goal, I feel guilty and ashamed—hardly attributes of anyone’s better self. Here’s how that plays out in my world: the other day, it was getting late, I was sleepy, and it was pelting rain. I had just over 9,500 steps logged; what to do? Go for a walk around the block? I mulled it over for a few minutes and, thankfully my better self prevailed. I went upstairs and climbed into bed. I could be my better self the following day.

These cold winter days make meeting my daily step goal a real challenge. Oh sure, I joined the Y, but walking in circles on the track makes 10,000 steps seem a lot farther than they are when I walk them with my friends on a warm, sunny day on the golf course. Maybe that’s the trick: friends to share my steps with. Genius!

Fear not, steppers; there’s hope. A recent study found that women in their 70s who managed to walk an average of 4400 steps a day reduced their risk of premature death by about 40%, compared to women who averaged only 2700 steps a day. The risk was further reduced if the women in the study walked 5000 or 6000 steps a day. But then this happened: women who walked more than 7500 steps a day showed no additional health benefit; they had maxed out! As in all things, too much a good thing might just be nothing at all!

That’s it for now. I have to walk across the street to the wine and cheese shop. That’s exactly 132 steps, door-to-door, round-trip. I should know: I count them almost every day.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon.

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