Sunday, April 14, 2013

24,000 Steps to Atotonilco

        It’s a familiar practice for me. Before heading out of a vacation rental home for a morning of exploration in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, I clipped a pedometer on my waistband. In the week before Easter, the streets of this city become arteries for almost daily processions in observation of Holy Week. There was much we wanted to see.

        All morning, we trekked from church to church, watching parishioners push into crowded foyers with armloads of flowers and fragrant chamomile to decorate statues and niches for the holiday. Children in white shirts and crisp dresses practiced songs of adoration. Neighborhood markets spilled over with bitter oranges and sprays of purple stock, traditional elements on Holy Week altars. 

         When we returned to our house that afternoon I sank into a chair and flipped open the pedometer at my waist. “Twelve thousand steps!” I exclaimed with delight. A worthy total for a morning of meandering. Then I paused for a calculation. “Half way to Atotonilco,” I announced.

         Atotonilco, a rural village 12 miles outside of San Miguel de Allende, marks the starting point of a solemn Holy Week pilgrimage undertaken by hundreds of devout, or repentant, parishioners from this region of Mexico. Every year, participants share the burden of transporting three life-size holy figures on heavy wooden litters in a procession that begins at midnight and arrives at dawn in San Miguel de Allende.

         Using a convenient average stride length of 2½ feet, my morning count of 12,000 steps correlates to walking six miles of distance. The route from Atotonilco, would be twice as long, requiring 24,000 steps as an estimate. Most likely, anyone wearing a pedometer in this annual pilgrimage would reach an even higher number. With one shoulder burdened beneath the weight of a religious icon, walkers shuffle in a slower, shorter stride than normal. Still, the thought of a 24,000-step pilgrimage raised my appreciation for the dedication of these pilgrims, and for those who would carry the statues 12-miles back to Atotonilco in a post-Easter procession the following week.

         Just days before I left on this trip, I’d read results of research study showing that Americans on average take just 5,117 steps per day, half of the 10,000 step daily goal we’ve been urged to reach. Imagine what a 24,000-step day could do to boost those averages!

         But here’s good news: it may not be necessary to embark on a 12-mile pilgrimage to increase distance and fitness with your steps. The same study reported that participants who began wearing pedometers boosted the number of steps they took by an average of 2500 steps per day. The increase raised overall physical activity of participants by about 27 percent over previous levels.

         With my goal-oriented personality, I find that a pedometer provides both a prod and a pat on the back. One of the rewards of the pedometer tally of 12,000 steps on a morning of walking in San Miguel de Allende was being able to relate the distance to an actual path – the distance to Atotonilco.  But I feel a glow of satisfaction every time the dial tops 10,000 steps. So if you aren’t yet a pedometer regular, dig out that old device you've hardly used and put your self in motion. Better health is a worthy pilgrimage for all of us—devout and penitent alike!

    Figures are from an 8-year study by Northwestern University of 240,000 adults, and reported this spring in “Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise” journal.
    Look at pages 147-148 of Healing Walks for Hard Times for getting the most out of your pedometer. 

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