Steps to fitness

First, an update:

FebFast is going well. A couple of minor transgressions, but overall given I’ve normally got a bit of a sweet tooth, I think I’m doing well avoiding junk food. Certainly no chips or chocolate have passed my lips since the start of the month, but perhaps more remarkably, no biscuits (despite the plentiful supply in the office) and no muesli bars. Thank you to those who have sponsored me! If you’d like to contribute: here’s the link.

Running is also going okay. I’m keeping up with at least three runs per week. I would like to go longer distances, and am scoping out some sports headphones (after the normal ones I used just fell out of my ears at speed!) I might adapt to RunKeeper’s interval training, as during my test run with music, the other problem apart from the headphones was I couldn’t keep count of my steps.

Which brings me to the third tranche of my fitness regime: steps.

I’m not into sport, but I love walking, and am blessed with a very walkable neighbourhood.

I recently upgraded my Nexus 5 phone to Android 5. With it came the Google Fit app, which makes use of the pedometer hardware which has been built into my phone all this time but I never noticed before. (Presumably I could have installed Google Fit earlier, but I didn’t know about it.)

Google Fit

With the app running, and given I take my phone almost everywhere I go, I can now very easily track the steps (and time) I take walking or running each day — excluding a small number of steps around the house or inside at work.

The beauty of trying where easy/possible to go places without the car is that I get some exercise built into my day. For instance I have a short walk on each end of my daily train trip to work — this adds up to about 2000 steps. Add a moderate walk at lunchtime, and the trip back home, and I can easily exceed 6000 steps on a work day without even trying.

On the nights that I don’t go running, I often take an evening walk with the kids. Depending on the weather and the errands we want to run (I often pick up supermarket supplies as part of this), this might typically be another 4000-5000 steps.

Some days I walk less. Some days I walk more. My record in one day was this Sunday just gone, where a couple of walks down the street, plus a walk around Southland (another 5653 steps) and an evening run added up to a grand total of 15,796.

How many steps is good? Google Fit seems to come with a default of 6000 per day to measure you against, but a lot of material recommends 10,000 steps per day:

Dr. Hatano’s calculations also showed that we should walk 10,000 steps a day to burn about 20% of our caloric intake through activity.

Today, the World Health Organisation (WHO), US Centre for Disease Control, US Surgeon General, American Heart Foundation, US Department of Health & Human Services, and the National Heart Foundation of Australia all recommend individuals take 10,000 steps a day to improve their health and reduce the risk of disease. — 10,000 Steps Australia

Digging around, I also found this study abstract, which says in part:

Based on currently available evidence, we propose the following preliminary indices be used to classify pedometer-determined physical activity in healthy adults:

(i). <5000 steps/day may be used as a ‘sedentary lifestyle index’;

(ii). 5000-7499 steps/day is typical of daily activity excluding sports/exercise and might be considered ‘low active’;

(iii). 7500-9999 likely includes some volitional activities (and/or elevated occupational activity demands) and might be considered ‘somewhat active’; and

(iv). >or=10000 steps/day indicates the point that should be used to classify individuals as ‘active’. Individuals who take >12500 steps/day are likely to be classified as ‘highly active’.

How many steps/day are enough? Preliminary pedometer indices for public health.

I’m thinking my aim should be to get to 70,000 steps or more in a week. Some days will be fewer than others, but if I can an average 10,000 per day, I’ll be doing pretty well.

Last week:

  • Monday 10435
  • Tuesday 9454
  • Wednesday 9926
  • Thursday 9348
  • Friday 6901
  • Saturday 11353
  • Sunday 15796
  • Total = 73213, or an average 10,459 per day

I’m not sure I can keep up that pace, especially through the winter, but I can try.

You met your goal!

At the moment, only a few phones have pedometers or other chips aimed at performing that function: these include the Google Nexus 5 that I have, as well as the Samsung Galaxy S5, and the iPhone 5s and iPhone 6.

Smartphones that don’t have a built-in pedometer can run an app that calculates steps via the accelerometers in phones. Here are some for Android and iPhone

The other alternative of course is an actual pedometer, or a fancier device such as a FitBit, or other devices with a pedometer such as a Nintendo DS.

What steps are you taking?

Some good stuff in the City of Melbourne’s Draft Walking Plan

You might have seen media coverage (Age / Herald Sun) of the new City of Melbourne Draft Walking Plan.

There’s lots of interesting stuff in the document (PDF, 35Mb).

Below are some notes from a skim through. (Page references refer to those at the top of the page, eg numbered from the start of the PDF including cover sheets/intro, not the start of the document.)

William Street, morning peak

p1. The economic benefits from dense city centres and improved walkability, underpinning the need for action: “A 10 per cent increase in the connectivity of the Hoddle Grid’s walking network is estimated to increase the value of the economy by $2.1 billion per year by making it quicker and easier for people to move around the city to do business, access services and jobs.”

p6. The bottom line on numbers: 840,000 people visit the city daily, expected to rise to 1.2 million by 2030.

p10. Updated figures (2011) for journeys to work in the City of Melbourne: Public transport 50.4% (Train 39.5%), vehicle 37.7%, walking 5.5%.

Note that the City of Melbourne is a lot bigger than the CBD, and the Hoddle Grid — I would expect figures for just the Hoddle Grid to show a higher proportion of public transport trips, but this walking strategy covers the whole council area.

p12. Weekday trips within the City of Melbourne are dominated by walking (66%).

p16. The importance of resolving crowding: “Crowding discourages people from walking, creates delays which waste time and money and undermines Melbourne’s international reputation for liveability.”

p20. Yikes: “In the City of Melbourne, a pedestrian is killed or sustains a serious or other injury every two days.”

p21. They’re aiming/expecting to increase walking, and public transport and bicycle use, with private car trips reducing.

Another CBD spot in need of a footpath upgrade. Wonder if @DoyleMelbourne is looking at these?

p30. They’re seeking to work with the Vicroads SmartRoads network operating plan, which already highlights which streets should prioritise which mode.

p32. Ever wondered why more traffic lights don’t automatically show a green man, even if nobody presses the button? Or wondered what it’s called? Apparently this is called “Auto pedestrian phase signals”.

Sounds like it will be implemented at a lot more crossings, which is good. Why is it important? As the document says: “They reduce waiting times for pedestrians (pedestrians do not miss an opportunity to cross if they get to the intersection after the time a walk phase could start). They give pedestrians a similar level of service to motorists, public transport vehicles and cyclists who do not need to manually activate lights.”

I’ve spotted this at a handful of recently re-programmed suburban traffic lights… would be great to see much more of it — it should be the standard.

p33 has a map of where they plan to implement it, which is encouraging. Thing is, I’d like to see it become the default for all signalised intersections — particularly as typical traffic light programming means a pedestrian who just misses the start of the green phase has to wait until the next one starts to get a green man.

p34 notes some (about 15) CBD intersections don’t have green man displays (“pedestrian lanterns”), apparently a legacy of the original installation in the 1940s! They’re going to install them — I suppose it may seem more restrictive for pedestrians, though as the document says “people with disabilities face significant difficulty when crossing the street as they are not alerted when it is safe and appropriate to cross”.

p36-47 goes into some detail about increasing pedestrian priority across the CBD, with five proposed categories:

  • Street as place — eg a destination, for instance Centre Place, Degraves Street
  • Walking street — for instance Bourke Street Mall, and proposed for the bottom of Elizabeth Street
  • High mobility walking street (public transport corridor) — for instance Swanston Street at present, and proposed for the remainder of Elizabeth Street
  • High mobility street (public transport corridor)
  • Other streets used by pedestrians

p50 talks about improved maps around the city.

p52. Stop lines to be moved to require motorists to give way to pedestrians when exiting minor lanes.

p56-57 talks about works to assist current areas of pedestrian overcrowding, such as around railway stations.

p59. Widen pedestrian crossings at intersections, and build-out kerbs. Also act on motorists who block crossings.

Edit: This page also notes they plan to move blockages such as street furniture (eg bins) away from busy intersections.

p64-69 goes into some detail about access in and around railway stations, including investigating re-opening the Little Collins Street pedestrian subway into Southern Cross Station).

I’m somewhat amused that they believe they need to “investigate ways to encourage use of [the Degraves Street] entrance” to Flinders Street Station. One look at it makes it pretty obvious what the problem is — there’s zero signage telling you it goes to the station.

p72-73. More formal pedestrian crossings, such as mid-block crossings.

p76-77. It notes that it is completely legal to cross more than 20 metres from a crossing, and because this is important for reducing walking distances and delays, and because they can’t provide crossings absolutely everywhere, they want to make streets easier to cross between the crossings.

The example they give (William Street outside Flagstaff station) is slightly odd — the reason people cross here is to avoid the packed footpaths. It’s unlikely many would cross between the station and the old Mint car park — though some using the car park might be going to nearby buildings.

p84 onwards. The appendices cover a number of interesting topics, including pedestrian countdown timers — not generally seen as recommended as trials haven’t shown they improve signal compliance.

Barnes walks (scramble crossings). They conclude they’re not worthwhile due to overall delays to pedestrians, trams and motorists — though oddly that’s based on a study of two locations seemingly chosen at random. They really should have looked at spots which are more obvious candidates, for instance those with busy buildings on all corners and a railway station on one side: say, Spencer and Bourke, Spencer and Collins, and Flinders and Swanston.

Pedestrian early starts — showing a green man before parallel traffic gets a green light. Fair enough — it’s really of benefit when turning motorists aren’t correctly giving way, and this isn’t a big problem at signalised intersections in the CBD.

p95. An interesting couple of tables about “Pedestrian level of service” — that is, different standards for how quickly a pedestrian can cross the road at traffic lights.

p96. Another interesting table showing a Transport For London reference on pedestrian comfort levels (PCL), based on how congested a pavement is, measuring the number of people and how restricted movement is at each level.

“At Pedestrian Comfort Level D, walking speeds are restricted and reduced and there are difficulties in bypassing slower pedestrians or moving in reverse flows.”

This is important research — for someone who hasn’t regularly experienced such conditions, it can be difficult to understand why a photo of a bunch of people on a footpath which appears to have plenty of space is, in fact, quite restrictive if you’re actually trying to walk on it. (This is why people resort to walking on the road.)

Pedestrian Comfort Levels (from City of Melbourne draft walking strategy, originally from a Transport For London document)


The draft document makes a lot of good points, and it’s fantastic to see the breadth of thought and research into a topic that’s so important for the City of Melbourne, including recognition of such issues as permeability and crowding levels on footpaths.

Cities like Melbourne need to plan carefully to cater for more pedestrians. On foot (in conjunction with public transport access) is the most efficient way to move more people around a busy city centre.

The only niggle I have is that it completely fails to talk about motorcycles parked on footpaths — as I’ve noted before, the guidelines don’t seem to be well-known (or followed), and certainly aren’t enforceable.

But overall, a big thumbs up — and it’ll be great to see some of the proposed changes implemented.

Walking etiquette

I hope my kids don’t feel offended when I point out good etiquette to them. I think they probably know it all by now, but sometimes I’ll point it out just to remind them, and sometimes I’ll point it out/affirm their actions a little louder than usual so that others in the vicinity can get the hint — for instance on the escalators at stations: “That’s it boys, stand on the left.”

Narrow footpath, and truck with amusing number plate

Little Lonsdale Street has busy but narrow footpaths. Something I’ve noticed is that some people haven’t figured out that when walking with someone else, it’s rude to take up the whole footpath when you encounter a person coming the other way.

Generally when faced with this, I’ll just stop dead on the left hand side of the path, rather than acquiesce and step aside onto the road. (Well why should I?) They usually take a hint then and grudgingly fall into single file.

(Not as bad: walking slowly 2+ abreast, filling up a footpath, oblivious of others in a hurry trying to overtake you. Still inconsiderate though.)

The health check

Apparently there have been some alarming results from the workplace health checks underway at the moment.

Victorian workers have been given a scare by a State Government-run health program which has found a high percentage don’t exercise enough with a number of people asked to see a doctor within 24 hours.

We’ve had ours on Friday (everybody opted-in, I think), and we seem to be a pretty healthy workplace.

At least, nobody’s been carted off in an ambulance.

My own results were all okay, with one exception.

Some of the points are self-assessment; others like cholesterol were checked by the nurse on the spot. I’ve summarised the take-home brochure, and my results below.


2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables (per day) should be your target

I’m on 3 serves of fruit, and 2 of vegetables, so need to increase my vegetable intake. It was noted that a variety is good. I probably eat more spinach leaves than most, as I know the kids will chow them down.

In all honesty, I’m not sure how achievable 5 serves of vegies per day is for me, but I can try.


I barely drink (perhaps a one standard drink per month if I’m lucky), and the nurse decided this was closer to no alcohol of the three options on the questionnaire.

I’ve never drunk a lot; it’s reduced even more since the cluster headaches arrived on the scene, as alcohol can help induce them (though just at the moment they’re not around).

Phsyical activity

Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most, preferably all days

I might not play sport, but I do a fair bit of walking. It’s generally three 30 minute walks a week with the kids, and one or two 60+ minute walks with Marita and her dog on the weekends. Add to that the shorter walks to/from the train each weekday (12 minutes x 2 x 5, though no doubt that doesn’t have the same benefits of the longer walks), that’s 270-330 minutes of walking per week, or at least 38 minutes a day.

So I think that’s fine.


There is no safe level of smoking

No problemo. Never smoked, sure as hell not about to start.

Body shape

Normal — Men: 94 cm or less. Women: 80 cm or less

I’m 86 cm, have been since I was a skinny yoof. Do have a little bit of a pot belly, but nothing major.

Blood pressure

Normal — Less than 120/80

The brochure explains that the first value is systolic — the pressure in the arteries as your heart squeezes blood out during each beat. The other is diastolic — the pressure as your heart relaxes before the next beat.

Mine’s a little high: 113/83. On this basis there’s a recommendation to review it when I next see my doctor, but the nurse emphasised that there’s no real problem.

This seems higher than usual for me. Normally when I give blood it’s lower — it was 117/76 the last time I noted it in my blog. In fact this time round the nurse thought it might be unusual and did an average out of four readings.


Normal — Total cholesterol 5.5 or less, HDL cholesterol 1.0 or more

Mine is 4.8 total, and 1.8 HDL, so that’s good.

Diabetes risk

Diabetes risk score — low risk: 5 or less. Medium risk 6-14. High risk 15 or more
Random blood glucose levels — normal: less than 6.5. High 6.5 or more

My diabetes risk score is 2 points for my age, 3 points for my sex (that would be male), and 3 points because someone in my family has it — my Dad has type 2. So 8 points makes me a medium risk for diabetes, and worth reviewing with my doctor at some stage.

My blood glucose level was 5.4, in the normal range.

Overall then

I’ll enquire about blood pressure and diabetes risk, the former isn’t a big problem at present, and the latter I can’t really do much about other than keep up the exercise and improve the diet.

I suppose there’s no big surprises for me in all this, but in terms of preventative health measures, I can see how this kind of far-reaching basic health check might help others to think about their lifestyle choices and modify them if possible.

And of course it’s only a fairly superficial check. I’ve still got headaches, Bowen Belly (much less so recently) and other minor ailments which hit me from time to time.

Anybody else do the check? Any surprises?