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10,000 steps and a little known fact about your iPhone that may leave you “very impressed and slightly terrified”

Posted on October 30, 2014

You may have heard about the quintessential guideline for physical activity – walk at least 10,000 steps every day. Chances are your trusty pedometer will recommend something to that effect. Ever wondered where that guideline comes from?

What may as a surprise is that it is a fairly arbitrary guideline, not really backed up by any credible evidence. Rather, most research supporting the benefits of walking at least 10,000 steps a day originated backwards, so to speak. The initial belief that 10,000 steps are good for you spurred the research, not the other way around.

The birth of this guideline dates back to the 1960s, when “manpo-kei” pedometer started gaining a lot of popularity in Japan. The name “manpo-kei” roughly translates to “10,000 steps meter”.

How long/far is 10,000 steps?

According to some estimates, the Surgeon General’s recommendation of getting about 30 minutes of physical activity every day will take you to 10,000 steps. Distance estimates vary from 5k to 5 miles. I have discovered that it would take me about 90 minutes (and 6-8km) of brisk walking to get to 10,000 steps. If any of the above is close to the truth, I think we can all agree that an average person does not get this much activity.

With a sedentary job, you’d be lucky to get 3,000 steps in.

Does taking 10,000 steps a day enough physical activity?

It depends.

For an average American (and Canadian) focusing on getting at least 10,000 steps a day in will represent a substantial increase in physical activity. Walking is also free, safe, low impact and accessible to most.

It does not measure or suggest any particular kind of intensity, of course. Depending on your fitness level, this may be a strenuous workout, or, literally, “a walk in the park”.

I probably would not recommend walking as the only type of physical activity you have in your day either, especially, as you get older. No amount of walking will replace strength training (unless you are walking uphill with a heavy pack, perhaps… Nepal, anyone?).

What does an iPhone have to do with it?

Shortly before I left, I upgraded my iPhone to a new OS, which came with the brand new health app. The app can connect with apps like JawBone and upload health-related information – weight, calories burned, meals consumed, etc. The usefulness of this app has been hotly debated, as the app does not seem to actually ‘do’ anything – apart from collecting information from other apps.

However, I did discover one nifty feature of the app (applicable if you have iPhone 5S or newer) – a step counter, made possible by a built in chip.

M7 coprocessor built into the iPhone 5S tracks your steps (and motion) all day, every day. The coprocessor is able to distinguish between different types of movement. This means that walking is tracked separately from running, and that driving my car to the store does not contribute to my daily step count. I was pleasantly surprised that during travel-heavy days my iPhone did track all the actual steps I took around the train stations and the airports, while not falsely tracking distance covered during the flight or train ride.

M7 stores up to 7 days worth of step information in its internal memory, collecting motion activity data from low-power sensors such as the accelerometer and compass.

Another little known fun fact – the processor tracks and remembers your movement, even when the phone’s battery is dead.

Yeah. Chew on that. One user describes his reaction as “very impressed, and slightly terrified”.

[Before you get too freaked out, consider that the chip requires very little power, and thus, is able to run on whatever is remaining in your battery, after your device shuts off.]

10,000 steps + iPhone = #operationtravelwarrior

I am not a big walker. Walking feels frustratingly slow, while running feels more meditative. I prefer running to walking as a method of transportation.

My day bag is a Day Lite Osprey backpack, which fits my laptop, my phone, my journal and a hydration bladder. I can tighten the straps, and switch to a brisk jog at any given moment.

I also do not live in the most walkable part of Ontario – the closest store is ten miles away. However, I have decided to adopt 10,000 steps as a daily guideline, while away in Europe.

Having my phone on me makes tracking easy. If I achieve that number, I do not worry too much about what else happens that day. If I don’t, I make sure to include a little workout that day, whether it’s some push-ups on the balcony or few hundred of body weight squats.

YOUR TURN: What do you do to ensure some physical movement while travelling? Is this something you consciously think about? Are there any bare minimums that you aim for?

#operationtravelwarrior

And few pictures from my walks:

IMG_2482

IMG_2483

Off for a walk,
Solo

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