Ruminations on Walking

April 20, 2012



Who is taking whom for a walk?



Who is taking whom for a walk?

My dog Sherman took me out for a walk today. Not a very demanding task, intellectually speaking, but a fertile ground for daydreaming. So bear with me if my mind wonders a bit.

Why do we walk the way we do?

Here is an observation: one of the things that characterize us as humans is the foot. Starting about 4 million years ago the foot has been undergoing an anatomical rearrangement that allowed us to walk upright. Without getting into minute details just consider this: we have an apposable thumb that allows us to grasp things. But the the hallux ( big toe) lost its apposable capacity. The reason? grasping with our rear feet was important when our ancestors  the monkeys were swinging from tree branches. Nowadays our feet are needed to provide a base for walking without falling over, and this is why the big toe migrated so as to provide a wider base. Have any doubt that the foot, as well as the knee, the hip and spine have undergone structural changes to accommodate bipedal upright walk? Just observe the chimps and the gorillas running with bent knees and forward-leaning torsos trying their best to reach the next tree.

Where did the mile come from?

This fearsome Roman legion invented the “mile”?


So here I am, mile three of walking the dog and bored out of my mind. Who invented those fricking miles anyway? Here is a surprise: the Roman legions did, over two thousnd years ago. In order to move fast (relatively speaking) over long distances they had a  stride of about 5 feet. So when they strode 1000 paces (foot=pes, in Latin, and from there pace is a quick hop and skip) they called it a mile (mille is 1000, in Latin) and marked it with a stone (hence milestone). I actually counted 5000 steps on today’s walk, but fell short of a mile. It’s not because anybody, neither me nor the Romans, is wrong. The Brits, with their inimitable chutzpah , simply changed the unit of a mile to 1520 feet. Why? because the Tudors, in the 16th century, decided that a mile should be 8 furlongs long. And pray, what is a furlong? that’s obvious: it originates from ‘furrow-long”, which is the length of a furrow that a horse can plow before taking a rest. You think this is ridiculous? Here is Cecil Adams in his blog “the straight dope”:

“Cumbersome though the present English system of measures is, it’s a miracle of simplicity compared to what it was a thousand years ago. One distance then was defined as 3 miles, 3 furlongs, 9 acres’ breadths, 3 perches, 9 feet, 9 shaftments, 9 handsbreadths, and 9 barleycorns, which sounds more like the inventory of a chicken farm than a measurement. Give me a kilometer any day.”

How many calories?

Four miles later we are finally home, tired but feeling self-satisfied: I burned a grand total of…300 calories. That’s right: a 150 lbs. person walking at a moderate 3 miles per hour on a level terrain burns 75 calories per mile. This is about the number of calories in a Grande Starbuck caffe latte made with whole milk, or one Snickers. For context, one pound of fat contains 3500 calories. So is walking futile for weight loss? Not at all. You can lose 1 pound of fat every 12 days if you walk 4 miles a day. Just think about it: 30 lbs. a year, and without dieting. And you get to bond with your dog! How can you beat that?

Anyway, we are home now. Thanks for keeping me company.