Health News and events transport

Cutting capacity has side effects

With all the talk of falling public transport patronage (some estimates have suggested it’s down 90%) and persistent (but unconfirmed) rumours of reduction of services to weekend levels, it’s worth remembering that capacity is only one aspect of service levels.

Normally, trains trams and buses are often packed, but with patronage currently so low, passengers are able to travel and easily maintain “social distancing” as a precaution against COVID-19.

Provided plenty of space can still be provided, it may make sense to reduce capacity.

But before you just declare “Okay then, let’s switch to a weekend timetable!” – what else would be affected?

Bentleigh station, peak hour 25/3/2020

Wait times and connections

Perhaps a little less obvious, particularly to those who don’t use public transport often, is the effect of service levels on frequency and waiting times.

This is particularly relevant for big cities where people increasingly use connections between services to complete their journeys. You can choose what time to leave the house, but you can’t choose what time your connecting service arrives.

You also probably can’t choose what time you can arrive at work, and what time you can leave work at the end of the day. This likely to be especially the case for people who are still attending workplaces – those of us with cushy white-collar jobs might have some flexibility, but most of us are already working from home.

How long should people wait? There was an old PTUA document that described 20 minute intervals in an urban context as “passable”, and 40+ minutes as “charity”.

Expanding that out (and being a little less charitable, because this is now the 21st century; most people have the choice of a car; and Melbourne is now a city of 5 million, not a sleepy hollow of 2.5 million), you might get something like this:

5 minutesgreat!
10 minutesgood
15 minutesokay
20 minutespassable
30 minutespoor
40 minutescharity
over 40 minutesalmost unusable

If they switched trains to a Saturday timetable, that would cut the busiest rail lines from around every 5 minutes in peak to every 10 for most of the day (especially if there were some extra services to boost the morning peak). That would probably be bearable.

But the other lines would drop back to every 20 minutes. Merely passable, not good, especially for connections.

Trams on a Saturday timetable would be mostly every 10-15 minutes through the day. That’s probably bearable.

But Sunday timetables are a different story. That could mean:

  • late starts, with the first trains not reaching the City until about 8am
  • virtually unusable 40 minute services on half the rail network before 10am
  • trams only every half-hour after 7pm, and poor frequencies in the morning peak

Buses on a weekend timetable? That would result in many already poor (but just about usable) half-hourly services dropping to an almost unusable hourly frequency. That would make them useless for connections, and create real difficulties for the essential workers relying on those routes.

And blanket weekend bus timetables would mean some critical routes, such as the 401 shuttle into the hospital precinct, would not run at all.

Melbourne University 401 shuttle bus, March 2008

Express journey times

A switch to a weekend timetable would remove express trains on the lines that have them: Frankston, Ringwood, Hurstbridge, Sunbury, Werribee.

While the impact is not as bad as service frequency cuts, it would mean longer journey times for some users.

For example, most Werribee trains on weekdays take 31 minutes inbound to North Melbourne, thanks to direct express services. On weekends this blows out to 42 minutes.

Doors – and fleet management

In many cities authorities are asking passengers to use the rear doors of trams and buses to board, to keep a distance from the driver. Yarra Trams has started doing this with some trams.

But the other issue is who opens the doors. Can passengers avoid having to do it?

Bus doors are opened by the driver.

Tram doors involve a game of bluff. The newer (post-2000) trams have buttons to open the doors, but generally the driver opens the doors at stops, which is consistent with older trams.

Train doors are problematic. The newer models have press buttons to open them. Metro is apparently exploring if this can be made automatic, which would help.

But on the older Comeng fleet, there’s a handle to pull to open the door – a handle with a deliberately awkward design to prevent people forcing doors.

If there is a train timetable cut, hopefully the service could be mostly or entirely run by newer trains, to reduce the risk from unwanted door handle contact. At least with button-operated doors you can use an elbow to press.

In fact, one silver lining of a period of reduced service would be an opportunity to push ahead with fleet upgrades/life extension projects on older vehicles, if any are pending.

Greatly reduced passenger numbers are certainly making bus operations easier during the autumn construction blitz. The Sandringham line has been closed for almost two weeks now without any fuss.

A service cut is probably inevitable

We shouldn’t kid ourselves. With patronage at perhaps 10% of the usual numbers, it’s a massive waste to keep running a full weekday service.

With so few passengers, and so little fare revenue, the system is haemorrhaging money, which ultimately would be better put into service upgrades when patronage is back to normal.

And there’s an ongoing risk that staff availability may be affected in coming weeks by the virus, which would make cuts will be impossible to avoid – and potentially forced to happen in a less controlled way.

One perhaps unforeseen aspect of a pandemic is that a flexible pool of train drivers able to drive multiple lines is now an advantage, rather than being seen as an unnecessary extravagance. Lack of flexibility is causing grief in London: Nearly a third of TfL’s workforce have called in sick, many of whom are trained for specific lines, and therefore cannot be transferred over at short notice to fill in the gaps.

One option on the trains might be run 3-car sets to the usual frequencies. This would maintain workforce requirements, but cut running costs including maintenance. 3-cars was once routine on weekends, though it’s unclear what operational changes might be required to do it again.

(Did they ever dare run the Siemens trains as 3-cars after the brakes crisis was over? Edit: Yes. See first comment.)

The system must remain usable

The key is to maintain a decent frequency that people can still actually use (not hopeless 40 minute trains and hourly buses) and enough capacity that passengers and staff can spread out and stay safe.

And it would make sense to make any changes as further COVID-19 restrictions are introduced – following reductions in demand, not prompting them.

Ultimately, a system-wide weekend timetable would make many bus routes unusable – and thus the overall public transport network would be compromised.

The last thing we need is essential medical and food supply chain staff having trouble just getting to work.

But a hybrid timetable: perhaps Saturday trains (plus some peak extras) and trams, and weekday bus timetables just moderate reductions to the few bus routes that are actually high frequency – with timing adjustments to take advantage of light traffic.

That would still provide a usable system for the essential workers who need it.

More reading:

Health transport

Patronage is down. Punctuality is up.

One of the effects of the COVID-19 crisis (which I wrote about in general terms yesterday) is a steep fall in public transport usage.

This is partially people avoiding the network and switching to other modes such as cycling and driving, but mostly it’s people avoiding travelling in the first place. (City Mapper data suggests as of Thursday 26 March, overall travel, across all modes, is down 80% from the usual levels.)

How far has public transport usage dropped?

The Age reports today that patronage is down by around 90%.

I was interested to see how the patronage drop affected service punctuality.

Punctuality for the month of February 2020 (on-time within 5 minutes) was 90.3% for Metro Trains, and 81.5% for Yarra Trams.

Using PTV’s daily figures, I was able to see how rapidly this is changing:

Train/tram punctuality: 7 day average

I’ve used a 7 day average figure, to smooth out spikes on specific days, and the effects of weekends.

The trend is obvious, and isn’t a great surprise, as fewer and fewer passengers are using the system. And in the case of trams, there’s also less traffic on the roads delaying services.

(I can’t show you bus punctuality data because it’s generally not published.)

A quick glance at PTV’s data back to 2000 shows Metro train punctuality is now at its highest since at least 2004, which was before the huge patronage surge in the latter part of that decade.

And since 2000, tram punctuality has never before been above 90%. Shows how good trams could be with effective traffic priority.

Avoiding performance penalties will be of benefit to the operators. But they also earn a large share of Myki fare revenue. In 2018-19, Metro, Yarra Trams and V/Line jointly received $620 million of this money (out of total fare revenue of about $982 million).

So the overall financial hit from plummeting patronage is enormous, given they are continuing to run a full service.

It is of course important for the public transport network to keep running, even if there are further government restrictions on activity, as no matter what, it’s critical that essential workers can get to their workplaces.

And service capacity must be sufficient to ensure the risk of close proximity for passengers and staff is minimised.

In the UK, there’s been a change so that the government takes on the revenue risk and the impacts from falling patronage from the private rail operators.

This will be something to watch in the days and weeks ahead.

Update: While most tram and bus doors open automatically, train doors don’t. Metro is investigating this (though the Comeng trains will still be a problem).

Health News and events

Stage 3? Bring it on.

I said it last week, but this whole situation is surreal.

At this point, there are 3,048 confirmed cases of COVID-19 around Australia. In the past week or two, the number has roughly doubled every 3-4 days.

There’s a slight bit of relief for those of us in Victoria – the growth here is a little more linear, with between 50 and 60 cases confirmed for most of each of the last five days.

But I think we all know this is about to spiral out of control. The number of cases of local transmission in Victoria rose from 9 yesterday to 16 today.

It all started off early this year with news reports from Wuhan in China, but quickly spread outwards from there.

The first real effects we saw were in early March when (possibly inspired by Hong Kong) toilet paper vanished from the shops. People were panic-buying it, and as soon as it starts, it’s hard to stop.

At one stage, rice, pasta, tissues, soap, cleaning products, fresh meat, frozen vegetables, some dairy and tinned food were all in short supply.

Chemist: out of stock

Thanks to measures such as purchase limits and early closing to allow restocking, they’ve all started to come back in.

In the past few days, I’ve found almost everything back in stock – though I haven’t spotted pasta. Even toilet paper is in stock (if you go in the morning).

Working from home

Last weekend we had hoped to get away to NSW for a few days. But I’m glad I held back booking flights. By the start of last week it increasingly appeared to be a bad idea.

Until last week I was still working in the City, but it was getting quieter every day. It reminded me of early January when most people are away.

As of this week, many workers (including myself) who can work from home are now doing so.

The public transport network is still running to full capacity (with major project works also underway) but hardly anybody is using it – this is just as well, since “social distancing” is vital to slow down the spread.

Bentleigh station, peak hour 25/3/2020
Bentleigh station at peak hour, Tuesday

So I’m at home all day. It’s a bit of adjustment. I’m finding I have to break it up with short walks, particularly at the start and end of the work day.

Most pedestrians around the place seem very aware of the guidance to keep 1.5 metres or more away from others.

Restrictions: Stage 1, stage 2…

It seems NSW and Victoria really wanted a near-lockdown last weekend. Some announcements by those states caused a lot of confusion that day, and in retrospect it seems to have been an ambit claim to force the Federal government into action.

Despite it being dialled-back, unprecedented restrictions were put in place. From Monday at midday, cafes and restaurants were forced to stop indoor dining, and gyms, pubs and numerous other types of businesses closed.

From Tuesday, Victorian schools were closed for early school holidays, though a few remain open for the children of essential workers, and in other states, schools are still open.

From midnight Wednesday there were more restrictions in place, including on weddings (now limited to a celebrant, the couple, and the legally-required two witnesses) and funerals (10 people only) and tightening of business restrictions.

I found the announcement of that one a bit problematic. After reading the list, Prime Minister Scott Morrison went wildly off-script, saying at one point that only essential workers should go out (okay, makes sense), but then nonsensically saying:

Now if you ask me who is an essential worker? Someone who has a job. Everyone who has a job in this economy is an essential worker. Every single job that is being done in our economy with these severe restrictions that are taking place is essential.



Really, I think that undermines the messaging about avoiding unnecessary travel.

Have the restrictions gone far enough? Only 5.4% of confirmed cases so far are via local transmission with no known link to an existing case, but about another 12.9% are of unknown origin, so who knows.

And a concern is how far behind reality are the confirmed case numbers, given the delay in symptoms appearing and being diagnosed.

What happens next? I’m no medical expert, and I know how disruptive and impactful it’ll be, but I think there has to be tighter restrictions soon.

It’s easy for me to say that when I personally am not (and thankfully am unlikely to be) under financial stress, but to batten down the hatches seems like the obvious course of action to have any hope of getting this thing under control.

Good luck everyone. Stay safe.

Health transport

Some thoughts on COVID-19

COVID-19 is developing very fast, and really is quite unlike anything in living memory.

I feel like Australia is still at the early stages, and already the impacts are huge. The ban on events of more than 500 people from Monday is unprecedented, and shopping for scarce supermarket items is a little bit surreal.

I’m a long way from being an expert, and I don’t want to make any predictions, but just a couple of observations on possible public transport impacts.

There was a comment last week about possibly switching to a Sunday timetable, but these seemed like more of a thought bubble than an actual plan. (At least I’d like to think so.)

Then an Age story on Friday speculated on social distancing measures:

The number of people allowed on public transport would likely to be severely limited.

“In a pandemic situation, you’d cut the number of people down to one person per seat,” said Associate Professor Adam Kamradt-Scott, who helped author the federal government’s influenza pandemic strategy.

People standing would be required to give each other at least one metre of space.

That could lead to a huge capacity crunch. An E-class tram in Melbourne is designed to hold 210 people, for example. But it has only 64 seats.

However, work hours could be staggered to reduce the number of people needing to use public transport at the same time.

Over decades the public transport staffing has been reduced – similar to many fields of work where labour costs have necessitated changes to working practices.

In the name of efficiency, these days we mostly buy our own tickets and board on platforms and onto vehicles with no direct staff presence. The majority of frontline staff are drivers, and do not normally supervise passengers.

So it’s very difficult to see how load limit like one passenger per seat that could be enforced.

The key is that any public transport restrictions would have to be accompanied by Government-led or recommended/mandated work-from-home policies (for those in roles that can do this – not everybody can) to make it work, alongside similar moves by schools and universities.

And in terms of any cuts to service, those would need to be very carefully considered to avoid exacerbating crowding. In other words service cuts should be in reaction to any peak hour patronage dip, rather than forcing it.

(See the update below for some clarity on this)

Peak hour demand might already be dropping. Anecdotally, a lot of people are switching to other travel modes or working from home.

Outside peak, as Jarrett Walker writes (in the context of lost revenue forcing these decisions) off-peak frequencies are cheaper to run, and should be maintained lest they prompt a long-term patronage drop.

Is it still okay to use public transport? As of Sunday the official advice was yes.

Public transport operators are promoting public health messages, which is good to see.

They should also be upping their cleaning regimes with regard to shared spaces, especially for things like door buttons, handles and seats – though at this early stage with hardly any “community transmission” in Victoria, the risk is thankfully minimal.

And operators should be supporting their staff – with any necessary protective gear such as masks and gloves, and operational changes to help reduce their risk.

All this might change at any time. This whole situation is obviously developing very fast. We’ll see what happens next.

Good luck everybody in the weeks ahead.

Update 7pm. A bit more information has emerged today, via a government source:

  • They don’t intend to cut services in response to patronage drops
  • But they will take advice from the State government’s medical experts, which might at some stage make recommendations related to service levels
  • They also might have to cut services if large numbers of staff (drivers and other support staff such as signallers and control room personnel) are unavailable due to illness. The nature of cuts would depend on which staff are out of action.
  • They’re looking at what other measures may be required, including what can be done to reduce cash handling (especially an issue for bus drivers)
  • Currently the only option for people with a Myki Pass who don’t want to use it is to get a refund. For Yearlies this may not be economical – because they are structured as 325 days at a discount rate, plus 40 free days. PTV’s algorithm means any refund instantly loses the 40 free days, then you get back a balance from the rest, which is often not much. It really depends how much is left on the Pass versus how long you expect not to use it.

Update Tuesday 17/3/2020: The cleaning regime has been boosted.

Update Wednesday 18/3/2020:

PTV advice includes suggestions to stagger your travel, and avoid cash

Victorian Government DHHS advice from today includes:

  • Additional cleaning is now in place on public transport. The Victorian Government is urging employers to consider staggered work times and remote working arrangements to reduce overcrowding at peak travel times.
  • The public is advised to sit in the back of taxis and ride shares, while mass transport should be avoided by people vulnerable to the virus, including the elderly.

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Everybody gets floaters to some extent, apparently.

Little artefacts, interference in your eyesight. Floating blobs.

In the last couple of months I’ve been getting more of them than before, particularly in bright light.

Official advice says this is common in people as they get older, and is likely to be either the vitreous humour slightly pulling away from the retina (not so bad) or retina damage (bad, very bad).

This is a concern for me because my right eye is bung, almost blind, always has been. So I need to make sure my left is okay.

So I went and had an eye test yesterday.

The lady was able to look into my eye and see the floaters — all is okay for now, it’s not retina damage.

She said that theoretically it can be treated, but in practice the treatment is worse than the cure, so it’s not worth it.

But I should seek urgent attention if I see flashing lights or colour strobing.

And… to avoid causing major damage, I should avoid action sports which might involve a sudden jolt to the head: sky-diving, driving racing cars, bungie jumping. I don’t think this will be a problem for me!

My eyesight is otherwise good, particularly at long range — though given the amount of computer work I do, I should be considering reading glasses. I’d already noticed I’ve started having problems seeing things like the fineprint on food packaging.

All part of growing older I suppose, but the eye test itself was pretty quick, easy and painless. Which is good, as I’ve been asked to go back in six months to check nothing’s getting worse.

Health Toxic Custard newsletter transport

Good to see smoking bans have been extended

A short break from posting my holiday blogs

From today, smoking bans have been extended to include the entrances to most government buildings, as well as outdoor dining areas.

This is all good. We’re way behind the other states on this. It’s about time non-smokers, who make up the vast majority of the population, had the right to more smoke-free places, including while eating.

The changes also mean e-cigarettes are included in smoking bans.

This is also welcome. Until now, as I understand it, e-cigarettes were not actually banned on and around public transport.

Vapers like to claim it’s harmless. I’m not sure I believe that, but regardless, I still don’t want the fumes in my face.


Until 2014, smoking was still permitted in some parts of railway stations, and around tram and bus shelters.

It was only in 2007 that smoking was banned in pubs. It seems outlandish now, but as late as 2001, you could smoke in restaurants.

At one office job I worked at in 1998, people still smoked in the courtyard entrance, and I was told it had only been a couple of years earlier that smoking had been banned inside the office.

To coin a phrase, smokers are a dying breed. In 2015 it was down to 11.9% of Victorians, and hopefully it’ll continue to drop as it’s banned in more places.

Smoke blows around easily, and sometimes it’s difficult to walk along city streets without breathing it in. So I hope the bans will continue to spread. It’s good to see progress.

Adults may have the right to smoke, but increasingly they can’t inflict it on others. And that’s a good thing.

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FebFast is over

FebFast is over

I think FebFast has brought a change in attitude from me. I’m going to continue to take in healthier snacks with me to munch on at work — to my surprise, I don’t actually mind the taste of raw carrots, and it’s been easier to Just Say No to biscuits than I thought it would be — easier than trying to limit their intake, in fact.

Apart from biscuits, I also managed to stay off chocolates, chips (hot and cold), muesli bars and pizza. I’ll probably get back onto occasional pizza, hopefully home-made and healthy (in fact I just got a pizza stone for the barbecue, now looking for recipes!), and occasional hot chips and chocolate, but avoid having them regularly, and lay off most of the baddies.

I’m in two minds about muesli bars — I know even the Carmans ones (with no chocolate or yoghurt) are basically just a big biscuit, but if I do munch on them I’ll definitely limit myself.

A few years ago I compared the nutritional attributes of various snacks… it’s no surprise that fresh (not dried) fruit provides fewer kilojoules, less sugar and fat and salt than chocolates or muesli bars.

The weakness was cake. With birthday celebrations during February for one son, a nephew and the usual work end-of-month practice of celebrating “February babies”, it can be socially difficult to resist joining in having some cake.

I raised $200 for youth addiction services by participating in FebFast — half the default target that was attached to my enrolment, but I had no idea how high it’d get. Thanks to all those who contributed — I think the donate link still works!


I got myself some earphones (on frequent flyer points) for running. Given when I listen to music I can’t count my pacing, I’ve got RunKeeper saying hello every minute. I’m walking one minute, then running another. Some might call this Interval Training. I call it Needing A Rest Every So Often.

But it is allowing me to gradually extend my runs.

What music? So far I’ve been trying some Ocean Colour Scene. The rhythm is fairly consistent (I won’t say plodding), and I know the music so I can enjoy it in the background without it being too distracting.

Runkeeper is telling me I’m averaging a kilometre about every 6 and a bit minutes, making my speed about 9 kilometres per hour. That said, I have to remember to set the Location setting on the phone to GPS only; setting it to “high accuracy” (using WiFi and other settings to help) actually seems to play against it when doing laps of the oval.

On this morning’s run I was joined by one lady who effortlessly ran about 6 laps non-stop, an older lady who effortlessly did run/walk/exercise laps, and an elderly lady who effortlessly walked a couple of laps — all while I huffed and puffed my way around, once again losing count of how many laps I did.

One conclusion is: I probably need to buy some decent running shoes. I got cheapies to get me started, and it’s probably time to (sorry, bad pun coming up) take the next step.

I probably also need to find a proper cool-down method. It seems to be pointless to have a shower too quickly after the run — somehow I just come out afterwards still sweaty.

Walking (total steps)

I’m still targeting 10,000 steps per day — some days I’m reaching and exceeding this by a long way, some days I’m way under. It varies, but it’s good to have a goal, and just thinking about it has me consciously trying to walk further.

Lunchtime walks are also a great way to avoid CBD tram overcrowding.

Looking at the figures, I’ve averaged 9850 per day since the start of February.

Turns out for people who are members of both Flybuys and Medibank and also have a Fitbit there’s a scheme running this month where people who sign up and reach 10,000 steps every day in March win a $100 prize. They also have 10 Flybuys points for each day you reach the target.

Daniel's steps per day

All in all I think doing FebFast was good for me, and hopefully has helped changed my attitudes towards diet, as well as fitness.

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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?

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Taking up running (again)

Part two of my three part plan for weight loss… (Part 1 is diet via FebFast)

I’ve never been one for organised sport, but I’ve had a few failed attempts at an exercise regime over the years. In the late 90s, I would regularly go for a short morning run, but I kind of fell out of the habit after a few months. A couple of years ago I got a punching bag, but it hasn’t really stuck.

I do get a fair bit of walking in. But I was looking for something a little more intensive, specifically to lose belly fat, which over the Christmas period can be an issue, but which to be honest I’ve been picking up over the past few years.

Runkeeper charts

Googling around I found this page, which may or may not be reputable: WikiHow: How to Lose Belly Fat.

It suggests a number of things, but one of the exercise ideas caught my eye:

Exercise in small bursts. Research shows that interval training, or alternating short bursts of energy with brief resting periods, can improve muscle and build endurance more quickly than traditional exercise.

And it gives this example:

Sprint. Run as fast and as far as you can for 20 seconds, then slow to a walk until you catch your breath. Repeat for 10 minutes.

As someone who sometimes sprints to catch a train, tram or bus, this appealed to me. So I’ve got a routine going now, which I’ve been doing since mid-December:

  • Brisk walk or jog down to the local oval.
  • Do laps: run for 60 paces (which is about 20 seconds), then walk until ready to run again.
  • Repeat for at least 5 laps, which takes about 13-15 minutes. I’m trying to steadily increase this, but 5 is a good starting point. If you’ve done 1-2, you’ve barely started and can’t give up. If you’ve done 3-4 you’re nearly finished, and can’t give up. I figure it’s all about getting the heart pumping, which it certainly does.
  • After the laps, a brisk walk or jog back to home.

I’ve been doing this three times a week (Thursday night, Saturday morning, Sunday night — these are the easiest times at present), but more often in the past few weeks as I’ve had a bit of leave from work. RunKeeper is tracking my progress (hence the graphs above), and nagging me if I go more than three days between runs.

If I get a stitch, I gather there are ways to combat that, by taking care with what/when you eat, and warming up properly.

I’ve tried running with music, but I need to get earphones that don’t fall out… and the music means I can’t count the steps/laps properly. It would work by going at a slower, more consistent pace that doesn’t need counting.

Is the running having an effect? I hope so, but it’s a little hard to tell. Belly still round, but the “grab test” seems to be a little harder, so the signs are good.

I’ll try and keep at it.

Who else is running, or has a different exercise regime?

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FebFast: No junk food for a month

I’ve just enjoyed my last takeaway pizza for a month, including leftovers for lunch today:

Last takeaway pizza before FebFast

I’ve signed up for FebFast, where participants are encouraged to refrain from something for the month of February.

They’ve got a few variations on it:

FebFast Smoking — no point in this, as I don’t smoke.

FebFast Social Media — Noooooooooooo.

FebFast Alcohol — I barely drink, so there’d be no challenge here.

FebFast Sugar — not convinced sugar intake is a problem for me, but I think it’d be difficult to do properly.

FebFast Junk Food — that’s the one for me!

Here’s an info-graphic on the benefits of staying off junk food:

FebFast: Junk food infographic

They’re ultimately leaving it up to the individual to decide what’s in and what’s out, though they do have some guidelines.

For me, I’ll be aiming to avoid: chips (both hot and crisps), chocolates (apparently “raw dark chocolate” is okay?), biscuits (a difficult ask in the office), milk shakes. Cakes? I’ll decline anything except a small slice for any birthday celebrations.

I’ll lay off soft drinks, but reserve the right to glug down a Coke if I need to, as I use them to fight off headaches occasionally. But I’ll try and avoid it.

I’ll avoid ice cream, but with one exception: I’m hoping to have one last Dairy Bell cone before they close in late February. I have fond memories of them from when I was a kid living near their Elsternwick shop — it’s a shame they’re going.

Non home-made pizza, burgers, and most other packaged/processed foods are also on the No Go list. I suspect I should also avoid muesli bars… they’re really just a glorified biscuit, aren’t they?

What else should I avoid?

I love my snacks between meals, so I’ll stick to fruit and nuts and other fresh stuff. Maybe I should pack some carrot sticks for morning tea?

Daniel's FebFast banner

So, who wants to sponsor me? Donations are tax deductible for Australians, and go towards supporting youth drug and alcohol addiction services.

Update: I was asked a good question on Twitter: How much junk food to I normally eat? I don’t binge on it all the time, but I do sometimes fall into the trap of a takeaway burger and chips as a lazy lunch or dinner, and I do eat far too many snacks such as biscuits at work, where we have a plentifully supplied biscuit jar.

Update FebFast Day 2: You should have SEEN the number of chocolate biscuits in the office biscuit jar today. Somehow I managed to resist them all!

Update FebFast Day 7: It’s been surprisingly easy to avoid chomping on office snacks such as biscuits. I did eat one muesli bar which I had in a desk drawer, and found it unsatisfying, so I doubt I’ll be having any more in a hurry. I have succumbed to a couple of (small) bottles of Coke as a pick-me-up (one day as I’ve developed a cold which has left me feeling pretty flat). I have been snacking on fruit and nuts, though I wonder what the overall kilojoule count is like on those.