10,000 steps a day? Try 30,000

Jim Emmons (center, in shorts) in a meeting on his 76,000-step day.

Jim Emmons was happy to talk about his 30,000-step-a-day habit, under one condition: the interview had to be in motion.

Yes, Emmons confirmed as we walked the Durham campus of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina where he’s Vice President of Corporate Planning, he does average 30,000 steps a day—three times the daily recommendation and twice the much-discussed increase recently suggested by a study of Scottish mailmen. As proof, he produced his iPhone and called up his Fitbit app, which confirmed the impressive stat. It also showed that for this day, he was at 30,684 steps. It was 3:14 in the afternoon.

How does someone rack up 30,000 steps by mid-afternoon?

“Normally, I get up between 4:15 and 4:30 and ride the recumbent bike for 75 to 90 minutes,” he said. “That’s 9 to 10,000 steps.”

Nearing the end of a 76,000-step day

Emmons cleans up, then takes the dog for a 35- to 40-minute walk. By the time he gets to the office at 7:15 a.m., he’s already in the 15,000-step neighborhood.

Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as how he manages to log the second 15,000 steps with a desk job.

“I do walking meetings,” says Emmons, who turned 60 in December.

Mostly, these are in the form of mentoring meetings, and meetings about workplace relationships.

“It gives the people I’m talking with a chance to get out, to stretch their legs.”

Unless the weather is especially bad, Emmons walks to all his meetings on BCBSNC’s 62-acre Durham campus. He can tell you how many steps it is from his building, No. 700, to, say, the cafeteria (400) or to Building 100 (1,000). Of course, he typically takes a more circuitous route.

“I’ll sometimes walk through this building,” he says pointing to a three-story structure somewhat near the cafeteria, “which has open seating. It gives me a chance to talk with people I need to catch up with. It’s also good for visibility.” Think of the mythical upper management types you may have worked for over the years: heard from, but rarely seen.

Emmons never takes the elevator, never forces anyone to walk who doesn’t want to, and never does an outdoor walking meeting after 10 a.m. in the summer.

“It’s a great way to get energized,” he says of his near-constant motion.

The word “anal” surfaces more than once during our 3,320-step conversation. Particularly when discussing:

  • The fact that Emmons has only once logged fewer than 20,000 steps in a day in the last four years (on an especially challenging travel day).
  • That he walks at four different paces:  treadmill/bike pace (1,350 steps every 10 minutes), normal pace — the brisk pace we keep on this interview (1,200 steps), the stop-and-sniff pace he walks with his dog (1,000 steps), and strolling, the pace he walks with his wife (slightly under 1,000 steps).
  • That he has daily goals within goals. “Weekdays, my goal is 25,000 steps, my threshold is 20,000, my stretch is 30,000. Weekends, my goal is 30,000, my threshold 25,000, my stretch 35,000.”
  • That his one-day record is 76,000 steps, during which he pretty much walked-and-worked all day as a promotion for the Susan G. Komen foundation.
  • That his goal for the next Komen event is 80,000 steps.
  • That his ultimate daily goal is 100,000 steps.

Emmons is motivated by the desire for a long, healthy life. Though his father lived to be 90, Emmons says he was in poor health in his later years. He’s determined not to follow suit, and has been on the never-slowing path to good health for at least 20 years.

Does Emmons consider himself competitive?

“Yes,” he’s quick to answer. He’s also quick to clarify. He mentions the daily challenge he has with his family Fitbit “Friends” group.

“I’m competitive with my goal,” he says, “not with my family. I think a better way to handle that is to compete by percentage of goal met.”

Anyone in a step competition with Jim Emmons would likely agree.

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