Saturday, June 28, 2008

Pedometer as a Personal Exercise Motivator

It's a human tendency (or is it just me?) to slow down with advancing age. Sports activities diminish, except for the viewing kind, and trips to the gym get curtailed. Also, a couch looks increasingly inviting by the day.

On the other hand, the dispensation of medical advice to exercise more also picks up in tempo, getting strident with each doctor visit when the only direction on a weighing scale is UP. Cutting down on food intake can only do that much. So I have been looking for a motivation to exercise, something like a constant reminder that would track my progress by the minutes, aside from wify's nagging, but delivered in a loving way and accepted whole-heartedly.

And my prayer was answered: CY sent me a Father's Day gift parcel that included just that: a pedometer. Actually two, the other one being for wify. Honestly, this is the first time I have even heard of the gadget/device. This particular one is a SPORTLINE walk and run collection, touted to “accurately counts walking, hiking or running steps” and be “prefect for 10,000 steps/day programs”.

So both I and wify have been wearing the pedometers at the waist since day 1, and religiously recording the number of steps achieved each day, eliciting “Wow” and “Ah!” from us whenever a new milestone was reached. In the past twelve days, wify has breached the 10,000 mark (the highest being 16,476), which has been claimed as the yardstick for an active lifestyle, on 7 of them while just short of that magical target in 2 of them.

Me? Well, as a sedentary worker confined to the office and often glued to the computer screen, it comes as no big surprise that my highest is just over 7,600 counts, which is on a Saturday. Must be a day of weekend grocery shopping, I reckon.

After 12 days of use, we kind of know what step counts to expect from our daily activities. Just by doing household chores alone, ascending/descending three levels, moving around the kitchen preparing our three meals, and circum-ambulating while reciting Buddhist sutras and mantras, would gain wify around 5,000 – 6,000 counts.

In contrast, my typical 8-hour day at the office, including the walk to and fro from the carpark and trips to the printing machines/break room/restroom/conference room/colleagues' rooms plus walking in circles within my own room, a more recent add-on in order to boost my step count, would reward me a lowly 2,000 – 2,500 counts. Obviously, some kind of supplementary physical activity is called for.

The evening walks. A typical half-an-hour around part of the west side of USF campus (before the Sun Dome) adjacent to our house would count for 2,000 steps. A further foray up to the center of USF Campus (just beyond the Library) and back, taking up to an hour or so, would double that. So that has helped push up my daily score past 5,000.

Starting two weeks ago, wify and her Arts teacher, Mrs. Fan, have been going for aerobic exercise (twice a week for 1 hour each) and dance class (once a week for 2 hours) at a nearby community center. These are locally sponsored community programs for 50+ (age wise)/seniors/AARP (formerly American Association of Retired Persons) members, free for aerobic and $6/class for dance classes. The average count she scored for an aerobic class is about 2,500 and for a dance class, about 3,500. The reason for the less than doubling of the step counts, which is disproportional to the duration of activity, is because a dance class involves frequent stoppage while the teacher is explaining the moves. So at least for three times a week, wify's target of 10,000 counts is always met, except when evening showers wash out the evening walk routine, which has become a frequent event lately.

As you can see, I still have a sizable shortfall to fill. Several options come to mind: parking further from the office; afternoon walk around the park (one of my colleague does just that, walking to Bayshore Blvd and back, while the other one goes one up: he jogs during lunch time and comes back all sweaty); or extending the route of the evening walk (our furthest was up to the USF campus lake fronting the Psychology/Music Buildings at the east side of Campus taking more than an hour, but that was before we had the pedometers). It seems I would have to add all three in order to top the threshold of 10,000 steps/day. And I look forward eagerly to that day.

Some information on pedometers from the friendly people at Wikipedia:

A pedometer (also known as a Tomish-meter, perhaps after the alleged inventor of a successful device, Thomas Jefferson ) or step counter is a device, in modern times usually portable and electronic or electromechanical, that counts each step a person takes by detecting the motion of their hips. Because the distance of each person's step varies, an informal calibration performed by the user is required if the distance in yards or miles is desired.

Used originally by sports and physical fitness enthusiasts, pedometers are now becoming popular as an everyday exercise measurer and motivator. Often worn on the belt and kept on all day, it can record how many steps the wearer has walked that day, and thus the kilometers/miles (distance = number of steps x step length). Some pedometers will also erroneously record movements other than walking, such as bending to tie one's shoes, or road bumps incurred while riding a vehicle, though the most advanced devices record fewer of these 'false steps'. Step counters can give encouragement to compete with oneself in getting fit and losing weight. A total of 10,000 steps per day, equivalent to 5 miles (8.0 km), is recommended by some to be the benchmark for an active lifestyle, although this point is debated among experts. Step counters are being integrated into an increasing number of portable consumer electronic devices such as music players and mobile phones

Oh, yes, the pedometers were made in China, a clear portent announced in the very first sentence of the book, China, Inc. (TC Fishman, Scribner, 2005), another gift in the Father's Day parcel from CY:


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Hand-made Cards that Make Our Day

While Mother's Day was celebrated last month, June ushers in Father's Day, celebrating the other half of the parental edifice. From being children ourselves, we have assumed the role of parents, not once, but four times as our household expanded. Now our two youngest are already in college, paving their way to become independent adults.

From bearing gifts to our parents, we have now become recipients in our own right. As parents, seeing our children grow up to become responsible adults is the best gift that we could ever get.

Each of our children has a different disposition. So are the ways they display affection, following the general pattern that daughters usually take after their mom and vice versa. Being perhaps the most expressive and creative of our children, CY sent a self-made card each to wify and me on the above occasions, along with other gifts driven by her uncanny sense of our preferences, and her perception of what we needed the most at this stage of our life. But nothing beats the hand-made cards and the messages thereon.

Here I would like to share the cards she has made for us while leaving the messages private for Mom and Dad to savor. You can see that CY really takes after her Mom in creating pictures out of imagination. We are really blessed to have our children turning up the way they are.

For Mom.

For Dad.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Kung Fu Panda: Belief in oneself

Belief in oneself. That's what Kung Fu Panda is all about. At least that's the take home message for me. We watched the movie yesterday at MUVICO located at New Tampa (we have grown to like this cinema complex for its spacious seat arrangement, suitably stacked on an incline to remove any worry of visual obstruction with reclining cushion seats, arm rests and adequate leg room plus excellent acoustics). We had a family conference and collectively decided that we would not pay the extra $3 per head to watch it on IMAX at Channel side, a good 12 miles away. (Wify's version of the pugilistic Panda is shown here holding the coveted Dragon Scroll in one hand over the head, with an inscription of the Chinese character for pugilism across the chest, in the shower of the peach flowers.)

The movie trailers shown during the pre-show segment were mostly catered to the children audience, understandably so, including the animated version of the Star Wars genre, The Clone Wars. Wonder whether it would meet with the same box office success as its human counterpart when it is released later in the year.

The feature presentation started with a nice musical score, a decidedly Chinese beat. We learned earlier on that Panda Po came from a noodle family with a secret recipe passed down through generations. And the movie then rolled on, and gradually revealed the provenance of the Dragon Scroll, supposedly a much coveted martial arts secret that only the designated Dragon Warrior could view. The two parallels did not become obvious until later, embedded in the words of Po's father (but I may have paraphrased here, relying pretty much on my memory after the fact), played by a gander (I almost wrote goose, which is the female, strictly speaking) of all animals:

If you want to make something special, you just have to believe it's special.”

I would leave the movie itself to connect the dot between the two, lest I'm guilty of “spoiling the fun”.

While watching the movie and as the plot progressively unraveled, Po's name began to strike me as having a deeper meaning the selection of which was not random. I recall the term “Po” coined by Edward de Bono, that world-renowned progenitor of lateral thinking/thinking out of the box, to convey exploring beyond the bounds of conventional wisdom. To refresh my memory, I consulted Wikipedia and was rewarded with the following:

A "Po" is an idea which moves thinking forward to a new place from where new ideas or solutions may be found. The term was created by Edward de Bono as part of a lateral thinking technique to suggest forward movement, that is, making a statement and seeing where it leads to. It is an extraction from words such as hypothesis, suppose, possible and poetry, all of which indicate forward movement and contain the syllable "po." Po can be taken to refer to any of the following - provoking operation, provocative operation or provocation operation. Also, in ancient Polynesian and the Maori, the word "po" refers to the original chaotic state of formlessness, from which evolution occurred. Edward de Bono argues that this context as well applies to the term.”

But perhaps I'm thinking too much into this, but I sure would like some feedback one way or the other.

We thoroughly enjoyed the movie, notwithstanding the fact that it has a strong Chinese root. But the destruction of property when the fight rampage was on seems excessive (collapsed stone walls, and exploded buildings and ground, etc.), perhaps exaggerating the potency of the highest level of unarmed combat there is done understandably for cinematic effect. Also, those who are veterans of Chinese martial arts movies and are an avid fan of Jackie Chan (who plays the voice of Master Monkey in the movie) would recognize some familiar fight sequences, for example, the chopstick fights between the Master Sifu and Student Po going for the Chinese dumplings with dexterous display of blocking moves.

Talking about Master Sifu, I was stumped by CE's question on if Sifu is Master in Chinese, why then “Master Sifu”, a seeming classic redundancy error (like repeat again?)? An oversight?

In the annals of Chinese history, the evolution of martial arts, especially the Shaolin lineage, is intertwined with Buddhist monks (another lineage, Wudan, would be more associated with Taoism). So it is little surprise that some vestiges of Buddhist influence were sprinkled here and there. For example, one scene had the Master Crane writing the Chinese calligraphy for the word Chan (Zen, wify's version is shown to the right). Then there is this not so subtle reference to the Buddhist worldview of being mindful of the here and now, imparted by Master Oogway (Chinese for turtle, Wu Gui) to Po under the Sacred Peach Tree (again, paraphrasing):

Yesterday was history. Tomorrow is a mystery. But today is a gift. That's why its called the present.”

Carpe Diem!