Walking paid for my dissertation. It’s a centerpiece of my research. I teach walkability regularly in class. I figured it was about time I talked about it on my blog.

When I was working on my dissertation, which really wasn’t that long ago, study participants had to wear an accelerometer/pedometer for a week. Those things were unreliable, unwieldy, and the resulting data were difficult to interpret: a trifecta of annoyance. I have vivid memories of trying to explain these gizmos to bemused people. How far we have come in less than a decade. Now, we all walk around with pedometers/accelerometers. All it takes is a decent app to interpret the data and you’re covered.

Pedometer ScreenI’ve tried a few of those pedometer apps. Until last week I was using Pedometer++. It has a few advantages: it’s free and it does exactly what it advertises. It counts your steps and that’s it. Right now I’m using Breeze. The step counting is almost identical – after all, both apps use the iPhone accelerometer; the only difference is slightly different algorithms – but one thing I enjoy with Breeze is that it sets the goal based on previous days. The dynamic goal and silly confetti when you reach the day’s goal makes me want to walk more. (Cheap psychological tricks might be cheap but that doesn’t mean they don’t work.) I may well switch to yet another app soon, provided it’s free, doesn’t require to “start” a session (it just captures your movement all the time), and doesn’t have too many bells and whistles. I’m not an athlete. I don’t want to tell random people on the internet about my workout. I don’t want the app to also analyze my sleep or my food intake (The idea of logging my food is a little revolting to me. It’s one of the ways I remain French). All I want to do is keep track of my walking and encourage myself to walk more. I’ve considered wearables, too. But for now at least I’m holding off. First, they seem like just another thing to keep track of, which feels stupid particularly since I always have my phone with me anyway. Second, the technology isn’t really there yet: there are complaints about all the existing wearables so far, and they don’t do a great job of logging gym workouts, which is kind of the whole point. Nike just closed down its wearable section, and the big players like Apple aren’t in the game yet. So… For now, I just think there are better things to do with $100. Hopefully I can continue walking a healthy amount every day, and perhaps get to the magical 10,000 daily steps. Whether I do or not, I’ll still get lots of benefits from my daily walks, not least of which are just getting time to think. The only problem is that pretty soon Virginia will be too hot and humid for a while. Walking on a treadmill just isn’t the same. An omnipresent lesson of planning is that in every intervention, there is a losing side. Walking is a refreshing exception.

Walking is just good. Period.

It’s good for your health, of course, though I won’t bore you with those details. It’s good for mental health, too. And it’s great for places. It makes community, it encourages neighborliness and human contact. It reduces crime. And unlike other things, it’s good for everybody. Yes, even people who need a walker benefit from walking, as do people in wheelchairs (though I guess rolling is a better term in that context). For once, there is no losing side. No short end of the stick. So download an app or not. Get a wearable monitor or not. But do yourself a favor and go for a walk. And don’t be surprised when you see me out there doing the same. Time for a promenade.

My dad and daughter on a promenade - incidentally one of her fave French words. (I'm not above motivating you with adorableness.)
My dad and daughter on a promenade – incidentally one of her fave French words. (I’m not above motivating you with adorableness.)

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