I get a little obsessed by the 10,000. If I don’t get the steps in, I feel jittery. If it’s close to the end of the day, I’ll take the dog out, again, or find some other reason to walk round and round. Talking to others about your stepcount, I’ve been reminded more than once, is like sharing your dreams. Not your hopes and aspirations, but the actual details of what you dream about. It’s of little interest to others. And yet, here I am.
The 10,000 step thing is a confection. It’s a marketing ploy, dreamed up in the early 1960s by a Japanese corporation to sell their new pedometer. Scientists have since calculated that around 7,000 steps a day is enough to aid early death avoidance. The NHS estimates that Britons average around 3,000 – 4,000 steps a day. There are clear gaps.
There are about 6000 streets in Glasgow. During lockdown a teacher called Michael Shanks set about running them all. He’s done it.
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It was an incredible undertaking. For one, there is the map element. If you like maps – and, frankly, if you don’t, what’s wrong with you – you’ll understand that one of the real joys of map reading and understanding comes from a sense of physically following the route after having done it in 2D or while you’re doing it in 2D. That’s not the only reason. Reading the map of a place you’ve never been to can make it come immediately to life.
It’s why satnavs, though in many ways hugely helpful and practical, are ultimately unfulfilling. You are always at the centre of the image and the roads and paths move around you. There is no sense of place. They crush wider comprehension. They also kill the joy in getting a little lost.
But there is another reason why Shanks’ quest is such a satisfying one. It takes him into the world. Nothing brings a sense of place and people better than being there. And at a time when we are increasingly closed and atomised, judging others and getting angry at their view from our own limited perspective, setting out to see the world, particularly that which is close at hand, will bring a better understanding of how others live.