Pacing Yourself

One fitness theory promotes walking 10,000 STEPS a day. Five people tally their steps toward better health.

Health & Fitness

February 29, 2004|By Elizabeth Large | Elizabeth Large,Sun Staff

The journey to better health and a longer life starts with a single step.

OK, more like 6,000 to 10,000 steps every day. At least that's what health professionals are recommending if you can't find the time to exercise as much as you should.

The idea is simple. No huffing and puffing, no gym memberships, no wrenching changes. Just the cost of a simple gadget, usually between $15 and $30. You figure out how many steps you're taking in the course of an ordinary day by clipping a pedometer on your waistband or belt, and then try to increase that number.

So just how many steps do Americans take in a day? We decided to find out. We gave five people with five very different lives pedometers to wear. Of course, just knowing that their steps were being counted may have caused them to take more of them, so it wasn't a particularly scientific survey. Still, the results may surprise you.

The Stay-at-Home Mom

Cathy Berger, 36

11,340 STEPS

It was a busy day for Cathy Berger, who lives in Towson, but then they all are. She has four children aged 6 and under.

"It was Mommy this and Mommy that," she says. She got the two oldest ready for school and walked one to the bus stop, then hurried back to take the other to preschool. Her son had a doctor's appointment. She was up and down the stairs more times than she could count.

By the time that Cathy had made dinner, fed and bathed the kids, and settled down for a quiet dinner with her husband, she had walked about five miles.

"When you see the mileage, you say wow," she says. "It didn't seem that far. It makes you feel kind of good. On those days when you think you aren't accomplishing anything, at least you're doing something good for yourself physically."

For more formal exercise, Cathy -- who is 5 feet, 7 inches tall and weighs 125 pounds -- runs, usually a mile.

"If I can make it a couple of days a week, I'm doing well," she says.

The Insurance Agent

David Charon, 42

2,530 STEPS

It's lucky David Charon, who describes his health as "excellent," likes to play basketball a couple of nights a week and spends time in the gym lifting weights and doing aerobics or other cardiovascular work several other times a week. He isn't getting much exercise sitting at a desk.

"I thought it would have been more," David admits after checking out his pedometer reading. "I feel like I'm always walking." The actual distance covered was less than two miles.

The majority of his day was spent in his Glen Burnie office, although he did have two outside appointments while he was wearing his pedometer. At 5:30 p.m. he headed for his Ellicott City home, and after dinner took off his pedometer to play basketball. (They aren't accurate for more intense activities where your stride varies.)

David has a good attitude about his low step total -- as he should, given that he's a fit 205 pounds and 6 feet tall. "Because I exercise strenuously four days a week," he says, "My time at work is good recovery time."

The Letter Carrier

Jeff Ficek, 42

21,438 STEPS

You would expect a postman to take a lot of steps. What you might not expect is that Jeff Ficek does kung fu in his spare time. The Parkville resident even walks to a shopping center near his home sometimes instead of driving.

"I like to stay healthy," he says. "I weigh the same as I did when I graduated high school." (That's 170 pounds on a 5-foot-10-inch frame.)

Jeff clipped on the pedometer when he woke up, but the steps didn't start to mount up until he got to the Loch Raven post office and began collecting mail and loading his truck. He started his route at 10:30 a.m. and was back at 4:45 p.m. As usual, he drove to an area, walked his route, and then drove to the next area. Back at home by 5:15 p.m., he left his pedometer on for 45 minutes of kung fu after dinner.

"It's not that jump-around stuff," he explains. "It's more steps."

He was surprised to see he had walked 10.14 miles that day. "I wouldn't have guessed it would come out to that much."

All the walking has left Jeff in good health; he hasn't called in sick in a couple of years. But there is a downside. Three years ago he had to have foot surgery -- letter carriers often have problems with feet and knees.

The Jack-of-All Trades

Kelly Williams, 27

9,888 STEPS

Kelly Williams is on the go. The White Marsh resident has a full-time job in the Baltimore County Register of Wills scanning and imaging department and two part-time jobs: one as host-ess / barista at Donna's in the Village of Cross Keys and the other as a sales associate at Chico's. She's saving up her money to go to law school.

Her day job could be sedentary, but it actually involves more steps than you might think, delivering files and running over to the court-house. Kelly also parks several blocks from work, partly to get a little more exercise into her busy schedule.

But what really put the miles on her pedometer was her 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. shift at Donna's, which was busy that night because of a wine tasting.

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