Changing Your Life in Ten Thousand Steps: Park A Little Further, Pick Stairs

While most students spent their Spring Break on the beach or on vacation, I was in bed recovering from surgery. Not a brilliant choice. I waited almost two years to have this surgery, and it was more of a relief than a burden. So with that mentality,  I had my gallbladder removed on Tuesday of Spring Break.

I had a scheduled check-up with a nurse a week after the surgery, just to make sure I was healing correctly. I told the nurse that it was hard for me to completely rest and stay still. I thought I was going to be scolded for my restlessness, but she actually said that I was the kind of patient she likes to see.

However, she seemed to mistake my lack of resting for something else and said, “Well I’m glad you’re up and moving, but you know you still have to wait a month to work out. Right now, your best exercise is walking. Walk as much as you can handle.”

What this nurse didn’t know was that I’m not an exerciser. I don’t like the sterile yet sweaty feeling of gyms. The other end of the spectrum is exercising outside, in nature. And I hate nature more than I hate gyms. I would rather learn about it from some Discovery Channel show, preferably narrated by Oprah. Even more than my dislike for both gyms and being outdoors, I’d simply rather be eating or doing something less productive than working out.

But the nurse got me thinking: Do I walk more as a student on campus or when I’m working with children?  My prediction was that I would walk more when working with children. They run, jump and move around more than I do and I generally have to keep up with them.

Before I became a full-time student at UCI, I was a full-time nanny. I worked with a family with four precious, darling, energetic little girls. We would go on nature walks, trips to Disneyland, the zoo, the park. I would walk upwards of five miles the days I worked.

To get a lot of walking in while on campus, I would have to go out of my way to find extra steps between classes. I realized that I had to be scientific in this so I dug out my old pedometer, strapped it on and prodded myself to start walking.

The Dubach Health Outreach Project out of Louisiana Tech University advises 10,000 steps a day. There are numerous benefits to reaching this number: weight management, appetite control, stress relief, and increase in energy. This walking thing was starting to look a little more appealing.

The first day I wore the pedometer was a workday. I didn’t start work until 1 p.m. so I took the time to run some errands; bank, Target, Trader Joe’s. After those three errands, I had already walked a distance of 1.05 miles.

I work at a preschool where my basic job description is “run after children.” There is an element of education involved as well but really, I just play. I felt a little useless because I’m still having trouble walking fast due to the surgery but I was able to do my job. I was amazed that after 4 hours of work I had only upped my mileage to 1.58. Luckily, that night we had a meeting for work so I was forced to walk even more. At the end of the night I had logged 2.58 miles. I thought that would be close to my 10,000 step goal. It was not. I had only walked 5,359 steps. I had to top that.

I had a full school day to top that mileage. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to beat it. That concern turned into a bit of an obsession. I checked the pedometer after being awake for a half hour. 201 steps, 0.10 miles. One hour. 301 steps, 0.16 miles. I had to restrain myself. After wearing the pedometer for three hours and walking to two classes, I had walked 1.08 miles and 2263 steps. I was gaining on my record from the previous day!

I decided to take the long way to my car, park farther from my apartment and walk to the mailbox instead of drive. By 10:00 p.m. I had walked 2.97 miles and 6205 steps! It wasn’t 10,000 but it was more than the day before! The day after school I had errands and life to attend to and almost forgot I was wearing the pedometer. By that night I had broken my record, yet again: 3.06 miles and 6,393 steps.

I’m not at that 10,000 step mark yet but I’m making progress. How can you get more exercise in without trying? When out and about, park in a row farther than you normally would. If you have the option of stairs or an elevator, opt for the stairs. I like to try to beat the people taking the elevator by getting to the bottom first. Make walking after dinner or before class a habit. Let’s make these changes together and see how our lives improve!