I’ve always been healthy, but I’ve never been very healthy. You know how it is: maybe exercise every year or two, eat some vegetables, etc. But I’ve always struggled with my weight. I even have diary entries from fourth grade committing to a diet with, “No more Hawaiian Punch!” I knew I could do more, but I couldn’t find a place for it.
And then I had a baby.
Immediately my standards plummeted. They say with baby weight, it’s nine months on and nine months off. So when six months came, I was pretty proud—only 15 pounds to go! And seven, eight, nine, ten months… only 15 pounds to go! I knew I was trying hard, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I just wasn’t doing enough.
Luckily, that’s when I was hired as the Manager of Health and Wellness at Hadassah, one of the largest women’s organizations in the United States. As part of my work with Every Beat Counts: Hadassah’s Heart Health Program™, I helped create Every Step Counts: Hadassah’s Walking Program. People say, “I’m not doing this for my health,” but I am.
Building on Hadassah’s expert research at our hospitals in Jerusalem, we created this U.S.-based program. Like 4 out of 5 women, I had no idea that heart disease was our #1 killer. Heart disease causes one third of all women’s deaths even though we can prevent 82% of it! Regular walking is one of the best types of prevention—and it’s so easy.
For six months, until September, I’ll be wearing a pedometer and tracking my steps online to build life-long healthy habits. To keep it fun, every time I enter steps, I move along a virtual route from NYC to Jerusalem, passing over 90 fun milestone markers along the way. The map keeps me focused. (And the educational tidbits provide Jewish and American history.) Every week I get an email that shows me how I’m doing.
This is what I’ve learned so far:
1. I was already doing more than I thought! Research shows that child-free people do more high intensity exercise, but new parents do more moderate intensity exercise, even when they feel like they’re not doing anything. Wearing a pedometer shows me all the little ways that my daily life already includes exercise, like tickle fights and cleaning floors. Even before I changed my routine, I was already proud of myself.
2. People who wear pedometers walk an average of a mile more per day. Those small measurements help us go just a little farther.
3. I don’t need to join a gym. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week—that’s just 21 minutes per day. I fit in my 21 minutes by taking my son to daycare in a stroller.
4. It’s good for every member of the family. Research shows that couples who both exercise are more likely to sustain the habit. I bring my husband and son along when it’s time to get out of the house. We’re healthier, happier, and talking face-to-face in the sunshine.
5. Every activity counts. The website we’re using has four dozen activities that convert to steps. Children’s playground games, gardening, and stretching all convert, along with exercises like biking, swimming, and basketball.
I’ve already seen effects. My Every Step Counts stats page shows me how much I walk and helps me find the small, incremental changes I can make in my daily routine. Since I’m a car-free New Yorker, I can go 6,000 steps/day easily but I’ve also made small changes in my day to help raise it to 12,000 steps/day. (That’s more than six miles.) I get off one subway stop sooner, take a walk around the block during lunch, and go on a family walk in the evening.
Anyone can improve their heart health, and our program is totally focused on personal goals, not getting skinny. But personally, I was also hoping to drop the effects of fourth grade Hawaiian Punch plus a grad school baby. And, for the first time in 20 years, I did it! (I haven’t worn this pants size since seventh grade.) I’ve never felt so energetic and strong.
I can’t totally re-orient my way of life. I’m taking the easier route. Small daily changes, a focus on being proud of myself, meeting my personal goals, and watching my progress charted in a fun way.
We’ve got over 1,000 people walking so far, using three different challenge levels, but there’s always room for more. Sign up is open at hadassah.org/everystepcounts.