At the time and place of this writing, the day has only about 10 hours of daylight, and the days will keep getting shorter until winter solstice, the shortest day. It’s pretty common for people to feel “down” in terms of mood during the winter months, sometimes to the point where it can be characterized as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Let me say right up front: if you are experiencing this in a bad way, go see a doctor. Don’t wait, don’t even finish reading this post. Make a call. As intense as the suffering is, it’s treatable.
For more moderate cases there are plenty of “over the counter” solutions. Vitamin D supplements might help. I’ve found light therapy (with this wonderful lamp) particularly helpful. It also includes a negative ion generator, though the science on that treatment is somewhat shakier. But nearly everyone agrees: exercise helps. Thus my mission to significantly elevate my activity level for 30 days.
Standard food guidelines cite 2,000 calories (kcal to be pedantic) per day as a recommended intake, but this is on the low end, especially for someone not sedentary. Here’s my burn.
Week 1: 22,568 kcal
Week 2: 21,720 kcal
Week 3: 21,750 kcal
Week 4: 22,028 kcal
2 days: 6,128 kcal
Min = 3,015 kcal
Max = 3,382 kcal
Grand total = 94,194 kcal
According to Wolfram Alpha, that’s 109.5 kWh. On an electricity bill, I’d pay something like $20 for that. On a Prius regenerative energy display, that’s over 2,000 of those little green leaves.
These figures are all tracked with a FitBit Charge HR, which I consider one of the best investments I’ve ever made in my health. Interestingly, I didn’t lose much weight during this time, nor was that my goal. Mostly my appetite increased to match my activity level.

How I did it

I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to do this. It’s part of a long-running set of life-goals I have to identify and eradicate any aspects of my life that bother me. It really started when I got the step tracker. At first, the default goal of 10,000 steps a day was a bit of a challenge. Some days I’d make it, some days not. Soon, my _average_ daily count passed 10k, then pretty soon I was beating that goal every day.
I increased my daily goal to 14,286 steps, which is about 100k per week. As I got used to that, I started surpassing that goal nearly every day.
Yes, the vast majority of my burn came from walking. I go out for runs only 1 or 2 times a week. Some more stats:
Week 1: 135,061 steps
Week 2: 125,943 steps
Week 3: 121,109 steps
Week 4: 127,999 steps
2 days: 35,145 steps
Min = 14,572
Max = 20,964
Grand total = 545,257 steps. More than half a million.

Breaking it down

How did I get so much walking in?
  1. Commute. Instead of driving, I take public transport. This involves walking to the train station, then from the train to one of those hated corporate shuttles, then from the shuttle to my office. Additionally, during the inevitable wait time, instead of sitting or standing, I walk more. I set goals: 1,500 step before the morning train, 3,500 steps before the shuttle, 5,000 steps before sitting down at my desk.
  2.  Standing desk. This doesn’t directly add a lot of steps, but it feels good. And somehow the FitBit knows I’m doing it, and I rack up more calories. Sitting entirely still (such as sleeping, or watching a movie) I burn 72 calories per hour. But with a standing desk, it’s higher. I suspect this is because the slight additional effort of standing is reflected in heart rate, which the FitBit continuously monitors.
  3. Pilates. Also not directly attributable to high step count, but still activity, occasionally quite intense (planks, yowza!). I try to get there early and run up and down stairs for 5 or 10 minutes to warm up first. I do this once or twice a week.
  4. Power breaks. I can walk 2,000 steps in a refreshing 20 minute break. I still take fewer breaks than the smokers, but I think I’m much healthier. I try to do this 3 times a day.
  5. Not using the nearest facilities. Instead of walking to the nearest cafeteria on campus, many days I’ll walk a half mile (each way) to a farther one.
  6. Daddy-daughter time. I have two kids, and I make a point of going for evening walks with them where we can talk about anything. They’ve both come to cherish these special times.
  7. Monitoring and mental discipline. First rule of optimization is that you need to be able to measure it. When it gets toward the end of the day, I need to remember to check my numbers. If short, then do something about it. Even if it’s cold and rainy. Even if I don’t feel like it. Even if there’s things I need to do. Your top priority is the thing you actually get done.
Will I keep it up? Not slavishly, but it’s pretty typical now for me to exceed 3,000 calories a day. There is value in occasional rest as well. 🙂
Resources mentioned:
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