Out there: High-steppin' it

If you walk 1,000 steps, but the phone is not on your person to record them, do they count?

Steps cannot be made up on Shabbat, because on Shabbat I can’t carry the phone. (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Steps cannot be made up on Shabbat, because on Shabbat I can’t carry the phone.
(photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Having come of age well before the Internet, during those Marcus Welby years in America when doctors enjoyed an aura of all-knowingness, I am a doctor’s dream. I come to appointments punctually, never wanting to waste the doctor’s precious time. I don’t try to self-diagnose beforehand by checking one of those medical websites and looking for my symptoms – and I always accept what the doctor says.
So after he takes my pulse, checks my ears, looks down my throat and tells me what I need to do, I do it. No questions asked. When it comes to doctors, I’m very old school.
Which is why my lifestyle changed dramatically a couple of years ago, when my physician said I needed to start doing regular exercise. Not the one-off hike here or there with the kids, or a once-in-a-blue-moon tennis game, but a regular regime.
“You need to walk 150 minutes a week,” he determined.
For me it was as if God had spoken. True, The Wife had urged me for years to walk regularly, as had my father. But I ignored their advice as perhaps being well intentioned, but not based on anything scientific. In other words, what did they know? But when the doctor spoke, it was a different story: the doctor had spoken.
To this day I don’t know how the doctor came up with the magic number of 150 minutes, but it doesn’t matter – ever since that moment I have made a great effort to walk two-and-a-half hours a week. Had the doctor said 180 minutes, I would have done that; 200 minutes, I would have done that; 250 and I’d be walking more than working: I do what the doctor says.
However, this walking routine, once relaxing, became stressful recently when I discovered an app on my cellphone that counts steps.
That’s right, now the phone in your pocket is not only a phone, tape recorder, television, camera, prayer book, calendar, library and currency converter, it also counts each and every step. A little research later, and I learned that the journey toward a long, healthy life starts with 10,000 daily steps.
“I can do that,” I thought. “I do a couple hundred steps every time I take out the garbage. What’s 10,000 steps every day?”
Well, as it turns out, it’s a bunch – a lot more than 150 minutes a week. But I got sucked in. If the experts recommend walking 10,000 steps a day, I’m going to walk 10,000 steps a day. After all, most of the experts are doctors.
But there’s a catch to the phone as a step counter: You have to be holding the phone, or carrying it in your pocket, for it actually to count the steps. And although I can wrap my head around why this needs to be the case, understanding why doesn’t make it any less annoying.
For instance, what happens if I go to borrow sugar from the neighbor, and don’t take the phone? What happens if I walk down the street to collect the mail, inadvertently leaving the phone on the desk?
Are those steps worth anything? Did I even take them? This app has put a 21st-century twist on that eternal question about the tree that falls in the forest when no one is around. If you walk 1,000 steps, but the phone is not on your person to record them, do they count?
By nature I’m not an overly competitive fellow, which was one reason I was never much of a tennis player or too great at one-on-one basketball. I figured that, in the great scheme of things, it never really mattered that much who won. I would have liked to win, of course, but wasn’t about to kill myself to do so.
I was, however, competitive with myself. As a kid I could spend hours whacking a tennis ball against the garage door, counting how many times I could do it consecutively, trying to break my personal record.
Same with bowling and with golf. Most of the fun was always in trying to beat my own personal best. It never dawned on me, however, that walking would someday turn into a self-competitive adventure. But now it has. I always aim for 10,000 steps a day, and I’m always trying to beat the record number of steps recorded on the phone.
What that means is if I walk to the mailbox without the phone, I come back, grab the phone, and walk back to the mailbox. If I forget the phone when borrowing sugar from the neighbor, I retrieve the phone and borrow some more sugar. The key is that all the steps get counted.
This also means racking up the steps by pacing wildly while speaking on the phone, and even watching television while in a state of perambulation.
“Sit down,” The Wife implored last Thursday night, as we were watching a movie and I marched in front of the TV in a desperate effort to get in the daily dose of steps. “You’re making me nervous. You can make up the steps when we walk on Shabbat.”
But while well intentioned, The Wife is wrong: steps cannot be made up on Shabbat, because on Shabbat I can’t carry the phone. “The uncounted step is not worth walking,” I said, paraphrasing Socrates.
“Perhaps,” she sighed, “but the counted steps are going to make us both want to drink the hemlock.”