Steps Mania

These shoes were made for walking.

These shoes were made for walking.

I’ve wanted a pedometer ever since I discovered such a thing existed. I’ve always been in love with walking. I’m not simply caught up in a current trend. For some reason I want people to know this, to know walking was my medicine for many years before theFitBit was even a glint in the eye of a product designer.

When I was a teenager with no money and no car, living in an often stressful situation, my escape was a stroll to the public library, a little over a mile from my house. The library was a haven, but the walk there was also an essential therapy element for me.

When you travel by car, you miss seeing fairy houses up close.

When you travel by car, you miss seeing fairy houses up close.

Back in my early adult years, before children, I engaged in a lot of physical activity. I bicycled every day, including a stint where I pedaled to work and back, five miles each way. I hung out with a group of footbag (hacky sack) players and had the luxury to spend a few hours every week kicking. I even competed in tournaments. Oh, the calories I burned. But given my choice of a vacation activity, I’d tend to choose some place with lots of hiking trails. Then, too, I’ve generally been more than willing to walk for transportation given the time to do so.

Once I had kids, opportunities for my own recreational activities became scarcer and exercise something I had to strategize to work into my daily life. Walking was the activity that fit most seamlessly. Put the child in a stroller — oh wait, firstborn screamed when pushed in a stroller. Reconnoiter, buy a baby sling, tuck in the infant, and take off. Much better. When the weather was bad, sometimes I’d go to the shopping mall and experience a reframing of my regard for mall walkers, as I perambulated up and down halls for twenty or thirty minutes. I liked to maintain a self-concept that included the word “tough.” This included a willingness to trek outside through any kind of weather. Mall walking didn’t fit. With the advent of motherhood, my self-concept had to lean more heavily toward adaptable.

A couple of years ago, I finally got a pedometer. And so did everyone else. I had my own personal goals, molded to my life circumstances: kids at home, job, responsibilities for my mom (though I’m happy to do it, it’s often like having a second job), an extremely needy old house. For the first while I could go cheerfully about my walking business with only a vague awareness that others were tracking their steps as well. Then people started talking about their steps. And getting competitive about their steps. And some of them got judgy about other folks’ daily totals, maintaining a haughtiness over how much higher their own test scores pedometer tallies were.

The only way to get to this spot is on foot. Elephant Rocks State Park, Missouri.

The only way to get to this spot is on foot. Elephant Rocks State Park, Missouri.

I had this lovely thing, this activity that had helped me cope in my worst times, a cherished prize that served as a beautiful centerpiece for my life and was an integral part of my identity. And everyone was RUINING it. Turning it into a tawdry game of one upsmanship. Also, some of their reported counts seemed a little out there to me. Someone who has a yard no larger than mine somehow would get 25% more steps than I did while mowing. Hmmmm.

I became suspicious about variations in devices. I admit I have a cheap-ass pedometer. It counts only steps and miles, but that’s all I need. If I take a walk around the neighborhood, it gives me a fairly accurate distance. But it doesn’t always pick up the random two or three steps here or there. If I stop at a shelf in the grocery store, for example, and then take four paces down the aisle, where I once again linger making price comparisons, it won’t record any steps. I pretty much have to take ten or more steps before it believes I’ve made enough of a commitment to movement for it to count. Eventually, one of my friends mentioned her FitBit recorded 400 steps for her while she was riding in a car. Ha! Vindication for my theory. It seemed a little like clothing sizes to me. The more expensive the brand, the more favorable the number. Pay them enough dough and they’ll stroke your ego.

I did some research and found this post from someone who had done her own comparison tests of different fitness trackers. The entire thing is worth a read. However, condensed version: The author, Lindsay Ross, wore many different pedometers at the same time and got wildly varying results. One recorded fewer than 9,000 steps for the day, while another gave her more than 16,000 for the same time period.

I suppose I could have used those couple of minutes to add more steps instead of stopping to enjoy this butterfly.

I suppose I could have used those couple of minutes to add more steps instead of stopping to enjoy this butterfly.

The money quote for me came in her conclusion:

“But at the end of the day, I don’t think it really matters as long as each individual pedometer is consistent with itself. The entire goal of wearing a pedometer is to get people to MOVE. So as long as the pedometer I choose to wear consistently tracks my movement from day-to-day, and inspires me to move more, it’s doing its job. Whether that pedometer says 8990 steps or 13566 steps, if I MOVE MORE from day-to-day, it’s technically done its job.” 

I’m pretty sure this is a metaphor for all of life, somehow. Don’t compare yourself so much with others; you’re not going to get an accurate gage on that anyway. For some people, getting out of bed is more than they did yesterday. It’s progress. Stick to keeping an eye on your own self, your own goals and achievements.

I intend to focus on enjoying the process. While waiting for the next fad to sweep the dilettantes out of my path.