But I Would Walk 500 Miles…


In December 2013 I quit the gym and ever since I have taken to walking as my main form of exercise. In all honesty for the last 8 years walking has been, except for the occasional cycling or snowshoeing, my only form of exercise. Now, I do a lot more of it, almost two million steps per year - that’s 2 and 6 zeros: 2,000,000; it feels much bigger when I write it like that.

By August last year I had passed 500 miles, and if the song I sung to my girlfriend holds true: “I would walk 500 more”, just not yet. It’s just over a year since I started the new exercise regime and I have cracked 780 miles.

Actually that is not the whole story. In reality, I have probably walked one thousand miles, but I have only tracked 780 of them. To know why, let’s back up to the end of December 2013 when I quit attempting to go to the gym.

Disclaimer: I’m not a medical expert; I have no nutritional training; I’m not a fitness instructor or licensed in any of those professions or any similar ones. I architect, design, write and debug computer software and I like to think that I’m rather good at it. Anything that follows is about my experience. If it gives you pause for thought and you change your lifestyle it’s because you make a conscious decision to do so, not because of anything I did or wrote. Got it? Now I’m glad that’s over although saddened that I needed to write it at all.

I always enjoyed walking. It is simple. You put one foot in front of the other and repeat. Low-impact, easy, and free. I could do other things during it, like listen to music or talk to people.

Taking the classic and simplistic perspective that weight loss is calories consumed vs calories burned, if I burned more calories I would lose weight and I definitely needed to do that. The gym membership that I had wasn’t helping me achieve that aim.

To measure the calories burned I needed a device or at least some software. Previously I had experimented with walk tracker apps for my iPhone and in particular liked the GPS+ Pedometer. It worked for walks and hikes. It took a little setting up each time, and you needed to leave it running for the entire walk. I was looking for something else, I wanted to measure all the calories I burned for the entire day. A Pedometer app was never going to count every step I made. I was sure to forget to run it, or notice that it had quit, or put it in the background. I needed something more reliable.

Dedicated hardware such as the FuelBand, Jawbone and Fitbit drew my attention, after all I was saving $40 a month in gym membership. I had a new budget I could spend on fitness gadgets.

January 1st, 2014 was crunch day. I didn’t panic and go back and join the gym. By then I had already performed research on Amazon reading endless user write-ups. I had as good as settled on a Fitbit wristband. The problem was that if I was going to wear something on my wrist, I would want to wear it on my left wrist. Prior to last November I hadn’t worn a watch in over 10 years and had just started wearing a Pebble watch - on my left wrist. I take the watch off all the time I knew I would do the same with a wristband. In fact unless I’m out and about, I just take my watch off.

In an ideal world it would have to be a device that didn’t go on my wrist and the Fitbit one looked like just the thing. It had a very minimal display, it would synchronize to my iPhone over Bluetooth and would only need charging once a week.

My next step was to see what stats they tracked and how their tracking site worked. I created a free account. If the way it tracked stats wasn’t going to meet my needs or the user interface was confusing then buying the hardware was going to be a waste.

The website seemed well laid out, I could manually enter stats and it linked to a matching iPhone App. That was important to me too as I would be using that interface to analyze my health as much as their WebApp. I installed the free iPhone App and registered my account details.

To my surprise, and delight, the Fitbit App had a week’s worth of my activity already. Where had this come from and how did it know what I had been doing?

In September 2013 I upgraded to an iPhone 5s so that I could experiment with the fingerprint sensor technology. The 5s had the new Apple Motion Co-processor (M7) which seemed all well and good, except that I didn’t expect it to impact me at all - except maybe give me better battery life.

It turns out that the M7 Chip keeps track of the “steps” the phone makes and holds the information for a rolling two week period. That is it records the steps, when they occur, where you are at the time and keeps the last two weeks worth.

I didn’t have to buy a Fitbit tracker at all, all I had to do was to remember to carry my phone whenever I was walking and everything would be tracked for me.

Neat, but you can see the flaw. Just like I take my watch off, I take my phone out of my pocket. In fact the only time it is generally in my pocket is when I go for a walk somewhere. As I easily average a thousand steps a day just by being in the office. That is 250,000 steps a year, or about 95 miles. Over the last 14 months that works out to be 110 miles, which added to 780 makes 890. OK, not a thousand miles yet, but I’m getting closer.

I did finish walking the Iron Horse Trail that I started last year, all 48.5 miles of it.

Each day I aim for 5,000 steps (~2 miles). Some days I walk 1,000 steps, some days I walk more than 12,000. One day I walked 20,000. Thanks to the tracking on the Fitbit web site I know that I have walked more than the entire length of Italy.

I try to look at each trip or errand as an opportunity to walk more. Be it a trip to the Post Office, to pick up some groceries or to grab lunch. If I can walk it, I walk it. If I can’t and have to drive then I park a decent distance from my destination and walk across the parking lot, or a make a point to walk up and down aisles I don’t need to - ideally all of them. I’m often seen at my local mall power walking laps as I window shop at speed weaving around the other shoppers as I go.

 And I would walk 500 more

I promised my girlfriend I would… anyone up for a hike?

Thanks go to Seemant Kulleen for inspiring me to stop procrastinating, be a finisher and actually complete this blog post, which I started in May 2014 and…

Special thanks go to Karen Williams for editing my jumbled words into some semblance of grammatical correctness to create the appearance of actual sentences, paragraphs and other such constructs that the English language seems to deem necessary.


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