University of South Carolina

Public health researcher resolves to take 5 million steps in one year


With confidence in the value of exercise and a demanding academic regimen, Dr. Steve Blair is hardly the kind of person who needs a challenge to keep moving.

Steve Blair
Steve Blair

Yet when his friend Dr. Martin Seligman announced his intention to take five million steps during 2009, something about that effort resonated with the Arnold School's 70-year-old exercise science expert.

Blair was already a member of an Internet-based "steps-per-day" group that Seligman, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, had organized to encourage members to walk.

"I believe such Internet groups are one new technique that will save lives." said Seligman, whose five-million-step goal was the result of a New Year's resolution.

Seligman said the walkers, all sporting pedometers, numbered about a dozen from several walks of life, varying in age from 17 to 79.

"We'd email each other each day about the number of steps we'd taken," said Blair, who followed Seligman's daily progress reports until he decided, "By gosh, I think I'm going to do that, but I'm not going to wait until 2010, so I'll start on my (70th) birthday."

His birthday was this past July 4.

"The six-month mark was January 3, and I was a little more than a quarter-of-a-million steps ahead of pace," said Blair, a professor in the University of South Carolina's Department of Exercise Science and Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Arnold School.

"We've still got a way to go, but unless I get sick or have an accident it's doable," he said.

Blair takes about 2,200 steps per mile, so he will log about 2,272 miles by the end of his quest. That's just a few more miles than the distance from Columbia to Salt Lake City, Utah.

Seligman writes about his five-million-step quest in his upcoming book, The Search for Well-Being.

"On December 30, 2009, I just crossed the five-million mark, and got ‘Wows,' " and " ‘What a role model' from my Internet friends."

"So effective is this group for exercise that I am now trying this out for dieting," Seligman writes. "Having failed at dieting once every year for 40 years and knowing the literature, which tells me that I am in the 80 to 95 percent who regains all the weight we lose, I am at it again."

Blair understands Seligman's goal to lose pounds, but the fact that the psychologist was "heavy" when he walked those five million steps underscores Blair's view that heft needn't necessarily weigh a person down.

In other words, fitness level is more important than weight, said Blair, a past president of the American College of Sports Medicine.

"My recommendation is to focus on good health habits, no matter what number you see on the scale," Blair said. "Give fruits, vegetables, and whole grains a major place in your daily diet. Be moderate about fat and alcohol. Don't smoke. Work on managing stress.

"Perhaps most important, get out of your chair and start walking for at least 30 minutes every day," said Blair, who said that with a little imagination and dedication even office workers can fit some exercise into their daily regimen.

For example, Blair takes breaks from his office at the Public Health Research Center to walk two blocks -- mainly uphill -- to visit colleagues at the Arnold School's Health Sciences Building.

So what's next? "I think I will continue to take steps at this rate for as long as I can. I also would like to get back on track with resistance training and flexibility training," he said.

By Web Communications

Posted: 03/12/10 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 08/09/11 @ 9:18 AM | Permalink