Monday,19 March, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1383, (1 - 7 March 2018)
Monday,19 March, 2018
Issue 1383, (1 - 7 March 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Who’s going to walk 10,000 steps a day?

It’s either 10,000 steps daily or repeating the same thing 10,000 hours. Take your pick, writes Alaa Abdel-Ghani

10,000 steps a day

So many people are trying to slim down and be healthy. But they usually don’t succeed. Those carb-rich snacks we stuff ourselves silly with — the potato chip, the candy bar, the sugary soda — are just too enticing. So, too, are cigarettes. We also get disheartened so quickly, especially when we see people who slog away in the gym and never lose weight, like those who were once short, balding and fat. Today, they’re still short, bald and fatter. And we have become such a sedentary, motionless, stationary lot that if we could, we would drive to the bathroom. How many times do you see young, healthy people willing to wait a good 10 minutes for an elevator that will take them all the way up to the stratospheric first floor?

Maybe those who want to stay in shape should try walking 10,000 steps a day. That was the subject of a recent story. Dr Yoshiro Hatano, a young Japanese academic at Kyushu University of Health and Welfare, reckoned that if he could persuade his fellow Japanese to increase their daily steps to around 10,000, then they would burn off approximately 500 extra calories a day and remain slim. It sounded great, but who’s going to take 10,000 steps a day? That’s over seven kilometres. Who has the time or the inclination? Who wants to drop dead just to stay healthy?  

Introducing the saviour: “Active 10”. With Active 10, according to a study by Sheffield Hallam University, you simply take three brisk 10-minute walks a day, more like 3,000 steps. That’s slightly over two kilometres, and not all at once, much shorter and easier than that ridiculous 10,000 figure.

The study showed that an Active 10 group, walking fast enough so that they could talk but not sing, worked their hearts and lungs better than the 10,000-step group, even though the former moved for less time. Apparently, when you do moderate intensity activity, you get greater health benefits. So even though the Active 10 group spent less time actually moving, they spent more time getting out of breath – which is good – and increased their heart rate. By doing so, they could lower the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

So three short brisk walks were easier to fit into the day and better for your health.

In other words, the study says you get better results from exercising less.

That sounds terrific. It’s tiring to exercise – although getting tired is the whole point.

Unfortunately, getting the most from the least is not the conclusion a pair of eminent authors came up with around a decade ago.

10000 hours

One of the most popular Fortune articles of the time was a cover story called “What It Takes to Be Great”. Geoff Colvin offered new evidence that top performers in any field – from Tiger Woods and Winston Churchill to Warren Buffett and Jack Welch – reached such heights because of practice and perseverance honed over decades.

Sheer hard work was also the theme of Outliers: The Story of Success, a book in which Malcolm Gladwell repeatedly mentions – coincidence or not, here comes that magic 10,000 number again – the “10,000-Hour Rule”, claiming that the key to success in any field is simply a matter of practising a specific task for a total of 10,000 hours.

This is how Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates achieved his extreme wealth, and how The Beatles became one of the most successful musical acts in human history. 

Prior to becoming famous, The Beatles performed live in Hamburg, Germany, over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time, therefore meeting the 10,000-Hour Rule. Gladwell asserts that all of the time The Beatles spent performing shaped their talent, “so by the time they returned to England from Hamburg they sounded like no one else. It was the making of them.”

Gates met the 10,000-Hour Rule when he gained access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of 13, and spent 10,000 hours programming on it. Gladwell says Gates’ unique access to a computer at a time when they were not commonplace helped him succeed. Without that access, Gladwell states that Gates would still be “a highly intelligent, driven, charming person and a successful professional,” but might not have been worth $50 billion.

This conceivably puts us in a quandary. Which way do we go? Do we choose three short walks a day, 10,000 steps a day or sweat 10,000 hours (that’s almost three hours a day for 10 years).

The choice is actually a no-brainer. If you want to become one of the best in the world at something, then practise for 10,000 hours. People who seek to perform at a world-class level, such as musicians, artists or athletes must earn that status the hard way. 

But let’s face it. Very few of us will ever become the world’s best at anything. So if you’re not planning on going to the Olympics, becoming a rock star or being Gates-like rich, you don’t need to do something for 10,000 hours or walk till you die healthier.

For most of us, all we want is to stay well without going beyond our comfort zone. As such, the three trips around the block will do just fine.

For anyone trying to develop a skill or an expertise, whether in the arts, business, sports or any other field, to the point where he or she can become a world beater, it is important to differentiate between the amount of time and effort required to become a master at something, and to become the world’s best at something.

Most of us, though, seek neither. Since what we really want is to get the most for doing the least, then the ideal activity is almost any type of participation that is inherently enjoyable and has no explicit goal.

The bottom line is you don’t have to be a champion to be healthy. You don’t need God-given talent or the hard work thereafter just to walk a bit. 

There’s a philosophy behind this kind of sport that aims for neither trophies nor medals. It’s called having fun.

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