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Last modified: Tuesday, September 12, 2006

BLOG: London by pedometer

Pedestrian traffic on a London street

Americans who have crossed the Atlantic are familiar with a welcome phenomenon: no matter how much you eat in Europe, you almost always lose weight. It's as though the continent has a magical metabolic power, converting chocolates and pasta into celery and dry toast. Although I have spent a good deal of time across the pond, it never ceases to amaze me that I can enjoy a week glutted on Cadbury's, baguettes and pints of cider and come back three pounds lighter. But this month, thanks to my trusty pedometer, the mystery was revealed.

I'll describe our first full day in London, and you can try to guess how many miles of walking my husband and I accumulated.

The day began with breakfast in the hotel, followed by a ride on the "Tube" (London's underground transport system) to Earl's Court Exhibition Hall to see the "Bodies" exhibit ( I misread the opening time in our Time Out weekly guide, so we spent a pleasant hour at a coffee shop down the road before returning to the exhibition hall. After an hour and a half in the exhibit, we chose a random Tube stop for lunch - Notting Hill Gate - and spent almost three hours in an Italian bistro chatting with a South African couple at the next table. We went from there to Bond Street (via Tube, of course) to hunt for bargains at my favorite department store, Marks and Spencer. Afterwards, we had just enough time to take our purchases back to the hotel and grab a quick snack before heading out to the evening's entertainment: a musical in Covent Garden. We walked to and from the theater, which took about 15 minutes each way.

So what would you guess? Bear in mind the "average" American accumulates less than 5,000 steps in a day, roughly 2.6 miles. We thought we would have hit five or six from the walks to and from the Tube stations and around the shops and exhibit hall.

We greatly underestimated. We walked 11 miles. Over 19,000 steps. And we did the same thing each day we were in London.

There is only one other circumstance in which I cover eleven miles in a day - when I am training for a marathon. And I always spend the remainder of the day flat on my back moaning about my hamstrings. During marathon training, I wouldn't even consider amassing that kind of mileage more than once in a given week. But in London, we did it day after day, and we didn't even notice.

The sad part is that I can't seem to duplicate this type of lifestyle at home. For one thing, my job is computer-based and takes up most of my day. Even if I do walk to and from work - impossible for most people due to distance or lack of sidewalks - I only cover a mile and change each way, and the journey to work is uphill so I arrive a sweaty, disheveled mess. And though Bloomington is a lovely town, it simply doesn't have the pedestrian allure of the ancient Roman capital, with its sculptural gothic architecture and bustling, endless sidewalks.

If you have suggestions about how to walk more in Bloomington or any small town, email me at I'll share your ideas with Active for Life.