Volume VII, No. 5 • May 16, 2015
The Million-Step Challenge
Ten Thousand Steps
I decided to walk 10,000 steps a day when I came to teach at Africa University this year. That’s the golden daily goal recommended by many exercise specialists. I’ve walked 10,000 steps a day on vacations, but at home I usually get between 6,000 to 8,000 steps a day. That’s good, but not outstanding.
Africa University offers a great setting for doing a lot of walking, and I love to hike, so I decided this would be a good time to go for the gold. I found that my trusty pedometer registered around eight thousand steps each weekday, but my long weekend hikes raised my daily average to over 10,000 steps. As I added up my weekly totals, I suddenly realized that if I kept it up, I’d get over a million steps during the semester. (10,000 steps daily for 100 days equals a million steps.) Much to my delight, I hit that target before the semester was over!
Now that I’ve proven that I can average 10,000 steps a day, my challenge is to keep it up after I return home. The value of walking is subtle, but its cumulative value over a span of years is immense. It’s obviously good for the musculoskeletal system, but it also boosts the cellular vigor of every other system in the body. The heart, brain, liver, kidneys, gut and associated organs all work better with the stimulus provided by walking. Even the immune system benefits, helping to protect the body from all kinds of infections and cancer. If you’re a walker, all this significantly improves your long-term quality and enjoyment of life.
So why don’t more of us walk 10,000 steps every day? The problem usually boils down to one of two things: inertia, or a time crunch caused by too many competing interests. Inertia is a polite term used to cover up slug-like behavior. It’s easier to sit around and talk than to get out and walk, so many people never work up the energy to walk for their health. The paradox is that walking generates much more energy for anyone than sitting does, though it takes a tiny bit of energy to get started.
The time crunch problem is real for millions of people, but even here, many of the competing interests that steal time from your day can be trimmed to restore precious time for walking. Statistics show that most people watch TV for one or two hours a day or even more. In most cases, TV time can be cut back to allow half an hour or more for walking – something that is more valuable than most TV programming. If one is truly motivated to walk, time can usually be found. So, here’s my challenge for you.
Your “Be Well” challenge is to walk a million steps this year. You may or may not be able to average ten thousand steps a day, but if you’re able to get in five or six thousand steps a day, you can still hit a million steps in about six months. That will give you excellent benefits in terms of health, and its a good goal. Whether you accomplish this in three months or six months, you will reap many benefits, and you will also encourage others. When they learn that you’re doing a million-step challenge, it will pique their interest, and they may take it up also!
The Foundation for Healthy Africa
There’s synchronicity in the million-step challenge coming out of Africa. I grew up in Africa. It’s where I absorbed my first lessons about the value of health. It’s also where the Foundation for Healthy Africa seeks to promote health, doing this by providing scholarships for students, funding small research projects on healthy living in Africa, and helping to promote healthy communities in Africa. (See my blog about Wandikweza for a great example of healthy community-building!)
A magical idea struck me this week: For every 10,000 steps I take, I will donate a dollar to the Foundation for Healthy Africa. That’s a dollar a day – not much in the world of foundations. Yet, just as single steps, multiplied many times, develop great health value over time, single dollars multiplied many times can reach significant funding levels.
If you have any interest in Africa, this creates a simple funding opportunity for you. As little as $5 or $10 will make a difference. If a million people sign up for this challenge, think how much that would add up to! OK, I know that’s unlikely, but it makes my point that a small gift will make a big difference if multiplied enough times. And I’m a dreamer!
Dream Medical School for Africa University
My biggest dream is to help fund a community-based medical school at Africa University. This is a crazy, over-the-top kind of dream. It will take lots of money and visionary leadership to become a reality. A wild dream? Yes, but not impossible.
I hope to see this dream come alive in my lifetime! Transforming millions of steps into a million-dollar challenge for a healthy Africa will accomplish two things. It will promote health, and any dollars given to the Foundation for Healthy Africa will go toward building a healthy Africa!
Don’t forget to focus on building a healthy you. Please walk if you can. We’re all inter-connected, and you are essential!
Ed Dodge, MD, MPH
P.S. If you join the Million-Step Challenge, you’ll need a pedometer. Here’s the one I recommend.