10,000 steps

I once believed the right attitude was the most important factor in living a healthy lifestyle. To keep moving and stay fit I cultivated a preference for walking to driving. I got in the habit of doing errands on foot, walking to the grocery store, the post office, to visit friends.

About three years ago I bought the Fitbit, and found my mindset and habits didn’t keep me on track as much as I thought. The Fitbit represented my first foray into quantified self, evaluating aspects of my life by the numbers instead of subjective experience.

My first weeks targeting 10,000 steps with the Fitbit were such a surprise. Hours spent cooking and cleaning seemed like constant motion, but yielded almost no steps. I could be found at 11:45 pm, pacing back and forth in the hallway to get the last hundred steps to 10,000. I memorized paths around my neighborhood by number of steps and calculated the extra laps needed to meet my target.

For me steps became such a natural and intuitive measure of my activity. The measure taught me an active day sometimes means driving to the post office so I have time for a run or cardio workout.

This week I happened upon the origins of the 10,000 step goal. It’s cool to learn that something so integral to my daily life began way back in 1960’s Japan. Here’s the story:

After the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Japan was enthused about physical fitness. Researcher, Dr. Hatano, was ready to put that enthusiasm to use. Hatano studied the number of steps an average Japanese person took in a day, then calculated the additional steps needed to burn an obesity-reducing extra 500 calories per day, and came up with 10,000 steps as a daily total. Hatano successfully marketed a pedometer called the Manpo-kei, which quite literally means counter to 10,000.

10,000 steps still holds sway in the global consciousness as a healthy activity target. I check my step total throughout every day, even though my current fitness tracker sets calorie goals instead of steps.

I learned all about Dr. Hatano and the Manpo-kei from a newsletter sent by one of my favorite apps, Coach.me. They cited the article: Why 10,000 steps?

Pictured from bottom to top is the Fitbit Ultra, the first model made, which I used until it died, and its immediate replacement, the Fitbit One.

If you’re happy and you know it

This month EdX is running a Massive Online Open Course offered by the University of Washington called: Becoming a Resilient Person- The Science of Stress Management. Life can get rough when I least expect it. Becoming a Resilient Person sounded like a good idea. I signed up.

My takeaway from the first week of video lectures is that resilience is not simply a matter of reducing stress. Yes, as the title of the course indicates, stress management is a key component of resilience, but it’s only half the equation. When it comes to being able to handle life’s ups and downs, enjoying a high quality, happy life, is just as important as stress reduction.

I would refine the insight even further and suggest that recognizing when you’re experiencing happiness is a critical component of a good quality life. In my cognitive science and psychology reading I keep coming across the idea that people tend to remember the negative more than the positive. Our psyches are hard wired to need the bare minimum emphasis on “don’t stick finger in flame” to get the message. Survival reinforced our instinct to run away from danger more than our instinct to run toward joy.

A few years ago I signed up for Happier, a website with app that acts as an online gratitude journal. Happier was fantastic, but its emphasis on social (sharing your happy moments) didn’t quite work for me. I began to edit the happy shares I posted, thinking I must be boring people to death posting yet again: snuggled with my kitty, read the same awesome book I talked about yesterday.

So I stole all the great ideas from Happier, such as the option to use photos as happy moments, and creating tags to categorize types of experiences that bring me joy, and recreated my private version of a gratitude journal in my Day One Journal. I aim for recording three happy moments every day, use photos when I can, and always give each moment a category tag. Thanks to Day One I can check in and review what made me happy that week. I can also get a view of category tags by frequency used, so I can begin to see what things in life bring me the most joy. Yes, animals are high on the list, but happy moments with friends top the charts.

For the majority human beings, including me, experiencing happiness is not enough, you need to recognize the happiness. Recording at least three good things every day means I’m happy and I know it.