I’ve heard a lot about how long the Japanese live. Friends and family (and even myself, at times) have remarked on how Tokyo is, mostly, devoid of fat people. Of course, rural towns are likely a different story, but I am not familiar with the trends in such places, and so will choose to ignore them for the purposes of this post. Besides, most of the media folks in the western world see from Japan is from larger, metropolitan areas (Tokyo, Osaka).
Many people (even Bill Murray in Lost in Translation) suggest that the Japanese diet is very healthy, which is why there seems to be such an epidemic of slim people in this country. Those statements are true, to a degree. While the traditional Japanese diet is much less greasy-sugary than the average American diet, nobody is perfect. There are plenty of foods on the Japanese menu that are probably best consumed in moderation.
There’s ramen (real ramen, not the noodle packs you find at the dollar store), tempura (DEEP FRIED VEGETABLES), tonkatsu (breaded and fried pork cutlets), and donburi (essentially bowls of rice topped with piles of meat), to name a few (mostly taken from the lunch menu
of your average salaryman). Add to this list a crapload of rice. I say “crapload” specifically to reference its special constipating powers, the effects of which are sometimes discussed candidly in everyday conversation. You should SEE the lines in some women’s bathrooms. But this is not a post about fast food, diets, or poop (or lack thereof). This is about movement.
How much do you move every day? I don’t mean from your computer to your bathroom, or picking up the TV remote from the armrest of the sofa. Do you walk to a car to go places? Do you walk to a train or bus station? Do you bicycle to work or to school? What do you think all your movement each week adds up to? What distance do you travel? How many calories do you burn just getting from point A to point B?
I did a little experiment (and I suppose I’m still doing it) with the help of my smartphone and a pretty nifty little app called Map My Run. I started tracking data about my movement habits. Yes, that’s right! We’re getting scientific (NOT) here at Arisha In Tokyo.
stalked tracked myself on an average week around town. Using the app, I monitored my movements via GPS tracking on my iPhone for a regular week around Tokyo. I did not track short trips to the convenience store or going down the street to do my laundry. Rather, I tracked commutes to and from work, time taken to meet friends (in other areas of the city), and my regular exercise (3 times a week). I walked (or ran) at a regular pace, took my regular routes, and watched the data as it came in.
Admittedly, my reasons for starting this project weren’t solely in the pursuit of glorious science. Truthfully, after coming home from my family’s European vacation at the beginning of July, I came down with a pretty serious case of what we scientists refer to as “lazy bum syndrome.” My symptoms included late-night delivery burrito orders, ass-to-sofa fixation, and a general desire to keep my “vacation” going as long as humanly possible.
This behavior, while awesome and much-needed for a couple of days to get over jet leg, was making me feel awful. I wasn’t spending much time outside, I wasn’t feeding myself good food, and I was moving only a small amount each day. I was even starting to feel depressed and nervous about the prospect of finding a new job (SPOILER: I FOUND WORK). I decided that even if I wasn’t working for money again just yet, I could at least be working on myself. 2 weeks of pizza, burritos, and internet had laid the foundation for some extra squish in places I’d rather weren’t so squishy.
I started slowly by cooking for myself again. I’d forgotten how cheap it was to cook food at home! And WOW, I was making delicious stuff that was actually pretty healthy! One day, after about a week of chowing down relatively guilt-free on tasty home made goodies, I decided I had to put jogging back into my routine. I’d take to the outdoors! FOR SCIENCE! Sorta.
I looked at a map of my neighborhood. Trying to estimate my relative health and abilities, I plotted out a 1.8 mile loop in my neighborhood within the app (on my PC), keeping in mind that I hadn’t exercised in about 2 months. Once plotted, I took to the streets, armed with my iPhone and some tunes. The route I plotted is flattish; it has a few ups and downs, and one rather large uphill section about 1.3 miles in, after which there’s a straight stretch to the finish. It was a challenge the first night. I took a lot of walking breaks, though still tried to challenge myself. I was only a little sore the next day (an appropriate amount, I felt), so I went again that night. I pushed way too hard and had trouble rolling out of bed the next morning.
I decided I needed to have a method to my madness, otherwise I was going to hurt myself. That’s when I decided to just start tracking my regular movements, and see if I could find a way to best expand upon them. Upon leaving home for work or the station, I’d just activate the GPS tracking on my phone, go about my commute, and then turn off the tracker when I arrived at my destination. My data (route, time, average pace, average speed, and more) were automatically saved to my account. I can now refer back to data about previous routes, and can even “race” myself I want to at this point. It’s pretty neat. Once I got the hang of remembering to turn on and turn off the tracker (I forgot a lot at first), I tried to do it for a week straight. Here’s the data I collected:
I moved roughly 20 miles (32 km) in one week while going about my regular business. About 40 minutes of my day Monday-Friday is spent walking to and from work, and Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are my designated days to go for a run on my neighborhood loop (which gets easier every time I do it). I feel better than I did a month ago, and while I have lost a little bit of squish, I also now have a little more muscle. While yes, the data does say 19.77 miles, I chose to round it up to account for all those little trips I said I wouldn’t record on GPS. While I wasn’t tracking them, they’re still a part of my schedule.
I was surprised with my result. It motivated me to be taking better care of myself in general. I am a very, very firm believer in moderation, and don’t believe that depriving oneself of favorite foods or a fun event makes much sense. I try to consume consciously, and work within reasonable standards for myself. I think the phrase “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” is one of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard in my life. It was clearly written by a person who has not been exposed to delicious things. I submit that “reasonably sized portions of whatever you want to eat taste as good as reasonably sized feels”. Not as catchy, I know, but it’s a work in progress.
Tokyo is a city where walking is integrated into everyday life. While yes, we enjoy the conveniences of a truly excellent public transportation system, we still have to get ourselves to places where we can utilize it. I was pretty amazed to discover my regular lifestyle adds up to 20 miles a week. How far do you think you move in a day? A week? A month? Do you make a conscious effort to move and exercise? To think about the food you’re eating? Are there restrictions in your life that prevent you from doing the things you’d like to do? Do you have goals for yourself you’ve been thinking about working towards?
I’ve found that integrating exercise and good, homemade food has made me feel different, in a positive way. I am generally more upbeat, I have more energy, I enjoy things more, and I feel good about myself. While yes, I do still have my down days and get bummed out or emotional from time to time, it’s a world of difference from where I was a couple of months ago. I’d be interested in comparing my regular week with data from others around the globe. If you’re feeling ambitious, try it out and send me your results!
Oh, and if you ever visit Tokyo…be prepared to walk. A lot.