The difference 500 days make

by Volker Weber


Hi, it's me. In February of last year and today. About 500 days apart.

Yesterday I suggested I might tone down my posts on fitness and you asked me to continue instead. I heard you loud and clear. And it's very encouraging to hear that I influenced a few of you to make changes to the better.

A weight loss book written by an engineer would be pretty thin: burn calories faster than you eat them. Sounds easy but is kind of hard. One reason is that the system is more complicated than it looks. If you reduce your calorie input, your body takes its foot off the accelerator. And keeps it off. If you go back to the old calorie intake, it's going to store those extra calories in body fat. That's why dieting does not work in the long run.

This is my first time trying to solve the problem on the burn side of the equation. Put your foot on the accelerator, ever so slowly, and then keep it on. I am not trying to lose weight. I am trying to keep the foot on that accelerator.

Habits gradually develop over time, and often you don't know how you ever got into the lifestyle that looks normal. To get out of those habits, I use my interest in gadgets and software. If you want to test fitness trackers, you kind of need to exercise. That's why testing sport watches never worked for me. I am not fit for serious sports. Step tracking was the way to go.

The human body has evolved over tens of thousands of years to be a good walker. Bicycles were introduced in Europe less than 200 years ago, the car only about 100 years ago. That's nothing in evolution. We are all still good walkers, with a little bit of exercise. And that was the moment of surprise. I had no idea how you can transform your body. No idea. I would look at other people and think, I cannot do that. It's not in my genes. But the lesson is, yes, it is in your genes. And it has been for thousands of years. Just get up and start walking.

My most important lesson was: go slowly. You don't know how to listen to your body. If you knew, you wouldn't be where you are. It will take weeks until that changes. I have seen people being so deaf to the messages from their body that they developed stress fractures in their legs from over-exercising.

When you start, exercise on T-days: Tuesday, Thursday, saTurday. However, the most effective schedule for exercise is 3-1-2-1. That means three days of exercise, one day of rest, two days of exercise, one day of rest. That makes up one week. This phase lasted about six months. After those six months I was ready to make a lifestyle change. Do something for the rest of your life. Every single day. That was last November and I decided I wanted to walk ten thousand steps, every single day.

That streak is now 255 days long. I am in my 37th week walking more than a 100 km. Today I passed the 4500 km line. Another 16 weeks will complete the year and take me past 6000 km. I may even make it to 4000 miles.

Setting a realistic goal and then reaching it every day without exception has proven to be the winning formula.

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I have applied that same formula to Activity on the Apple Watch. I have set the Move goal to 600 calories where Activity suggests 1000. I can reach those 600 (outer ring) in the early afternoon, if I start with a 90 minute long walk in the morning, before breakfast. That easily completes the Workout goal of 30 minutes (green ring). The stand goal (blue ring) is a piece of cake. You just have to get up once an hour for a minute. I find it easiest to reach all goals if I try to keep the outer and middle ring in front of the inner one. I usually complete them in the same order: Workout, Move, Stand. My weekly move is around 7000 calories, but it varies by day, between 600 and 1200. Setting it to a thousand would mean I cannot reach it every day.

One comment on the calorie intake side of things. You want that extra Big Mac? No problem. That's 530 calories. Just keep walking another 90 minutes. Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese? That's 720 calories or two hours. Big Breakfast with Hotcakes? 1150 calories or between three and four hours. A side of Large French Fries? 510. And then finish it off with a Large Vanilla Shake? 820 calories.

Or maybe, you don't really need all that food. Listen to your body.

Once you get the hang of it, keep walking. Without ever breaking the chain.



Not breaking the chain is a nice sounding thing - but why the emphasize on it so much as there might be days (hot ones) where you should listen to your body not doing strict goals?

Daniel Kirstenpfad, 2015-07-09

Come on, you squeezed the pic, right? :-)

Martin Kautz, 2015-07-09

If he did stretch it, he was careful. The buttons are round in both pictures.

(congrats on seeing the rewards for your commitment.)

Craig Wiseman, 2015-07-09

Ich muss es einfach auf deutsch schreiben: sooooo viel weniger Kopf! :)

Ingo Seifert, 2015-07-09

New glasses?

Andrew Magerman, 2015-07-09

Daniel, I do listen to my body. Even if it says at 6 in the morning: "Get up and get moving before it gets hot. We can sleep later."

Andrew, old glasses. I have (more than) two.

Volker Weber, 2015-07-09

Martin and Craig, for your image analysis I have provided a link under "today". ;-)

Volker Weber, 2015-07-09

Very good summary. Walking is the exercise gyms don't want people to know about. Anyone wanting to get fitter or lose some weight, walk. If you do it right it's not a chore and it's completely free.

I did the same as you over a slightly longer period. (Started 1st Jan 2014). I took the simplistic approach of burning more than eating. I changed my work / life balance to ensure I had the time for walking and although I don't have the flexibility to walk 10,000 steps every day. I have managed to ensure I have one really decent walk each week. If there's a choice between a 30 minute walk and using the car, I almost always walk. I now usually take 80,000 steps a week. This week, on two separate occasions, I've walked 20 miles. I would never have thought that was possible at the beginning of 2014.

Although I wanted to lose weight. I never expected it to be so effective. In 2014, I lost 38 kilos. Most of this year, it's been about maintaining the weight but because I've built my walks my lifestyle, I've been able to stabilise my weight and reintroduce (in moderation) things such as beer. But most importantly I'm no longer sitting in front of a computer every weekend. I'm a winner all round.

Some other tips:

Don't start off by hiking around nice countryside. Pick something easy. Find an interesting flat town or city and walk around them. There's always something to look at. But most importantly when starting out you will get tired. If you do, then you know you can hop on public transport or have a rest in a cafe. (But avoid pubs!) I now go into London most weekends and walk around the place. I'm never more than a few minutes away from a bus or tube and I've seen so many interesting places that I would never have known existed. But if you do walk around a town or city, minimise walking down busy polluted roads, plan routes that take in parks, rivers and canals.

I've also found that walking with a 20 kilo bag really helps increases calorie burn. So I walk with a full camera bag. But this means I have something to do when I'm walking.

Buy Compeed (for blisters), gel insoles. and comfortable shoes. Comfortable does not necessarily mean expensive. I have a shoe that's actually really cheap. But they're really comfortable. I can break them in really quickly and although they need replacing every three months, I don't get blisters from them. Unlike my more expensive hiking boots.

Paul Hudson, 2015-07-09

Thanks for sharing, Paul. I never thought about adding weight, that I just lost. ;-)

Volker Weber, 2015-07-09

(rolling_eyes_emoji) I see one of my most favorite blogs beeing taken over by old men, not the trend I was hoping for.

Martin Funk, 2015-07-09

Martin, this place is owned by an old kid.

Volker Weber, 2015-07-09

Vowe - you look much younger! This is such a good post. And really good comments. I've been trying the walking thing for a couple of months now, but unfortunately the weight has not reduced. I've come to realise I need to kick my bread habit if I want to loose weight.

Ian Bradbury, 2015-07-09

Congratulations on your success. This sounds like an approach that could work for others as well.

Have you discussed any of this with Richard Schwartz? He's another person who's experienced a physical transformation that I think you'd be interested in.

Nathan T. Freeman, 2015-07-10

Thank you, Nathan. Yes, this could work for others. That's why I am telling my story. It's actually quite easy and not exhausting. It helps if you live in a European city that is older than cars. Some places like San Francisco or New York are good environments as well.

No, I have not discussed it with Richard. His transformation is way more radical than mine. He was going from killing himself with food to full-on gym exercise. I don't do any serious exercise and I need to be outside in the countryside.

Volker Weber, 2015-07-10

There actually is a weight loss book written by an engineer, and it's quite extensive: the Hacker's Diet by Autodesk founder John Walker ( He recommends weighing each day simply to have more data points and to cancel out noise in the measurement.

Andreas Eldrich, 2015-07-10

He's welcome to correct me, but I seem to remember that the gym exercise that Richard practices is walking. Just on a treadmill rather than outdoors. I don't think he's doing Crossfit training with kettle bells or anything. But maybe he's stepped it up since last August :)

Nathan T. Freeman, 2015-07-10

Walking was part of my routine at times, but my story is rather different.

I started by going to see a nutiritionist for help changing my approach to food. I will not argue with Volker's description of me "killing myself with food". As usual, he has a way of boiling the truth down to the minimum number of words. Those of you who knew me in the '90s had watched me gain about 45 kg. I was 130 kg (288 lb) and 165 cm (5'5"). I had to make radical changes.

I joined the YMCA, intending to swim, but I found that I had no endurance at all in the pool. After one lap, I had to rest. I knew that would not get the job done, so I went upstairs to where they had the fitness machines. It wasn't the treadmill that I went for. It was the elliptical machine, because I was worried about the stress the treadmill would put on my knees and feet. On my first try, I lasted 10 minutes at very low settings. The next day I went back and I lasted 20 minutes at a slightly higher setting, and a few days later I lasted 30 minutes. I wasn't running out of breath, I wasn't feeling dizzy or light-headed. I was sweating profusely, but that was a good thing.

I initially intended to work out 3 days per week, but I soon realized that it was easier to aim for 5 days per week than 3. That forced me to make it part of my routine, and to be sure to make up for any day I missed ASAP. Pretty soon I was aiming for either 45 or 60 minutes, running a program on the elliptical called "Fat Burner" - plus a 5 minute "cool down" period. Every week I pushed one or both of the machine's settings ("resistance" and "ramp") up a notch, and I watched my endurance and my calorie burn rate. If the net result was improving, I kept the new settings. If not, I backed off. Initially I had been thrilled to burn 250 calories in 30 minutes. After about 6 months, I was reliably burning 700-900 calories per 50 or 65 minute session. On weekends, I sometimes went for 90 minutes. Then I had to have surgery.

I had developed an umbilical hernia several years earlier, and by this point I had already lost quite a lot of weight. The cushion of fat in my belly was shrinking and the abdominal muscles were tightening around the hernia. It had to be fixed, and that meant 5 weeks without working out - but I was allowed to walk. On nice days, I walked outside. On other days, I walked on the track at the YMCA or I went to the local indoor mall. Once I was medically cleared, I went back to working out on the elliptical machine, but some days I walked instead - or in addition! It was fun, and walking in the mall served another purpose: I needed a lot of new clothes, and I could walk through all the stores looking for deals :-) When my daughter enrolled in an evening class in Manchester, about 30 km (20 miles) away, I had to drive her there and wait three to four hours for the class to be over. I used that time to walk, too.

In little more than a year, I got down to 81 kg (178 lb). I've more or less maintained that since. It's still hard work. My body wants to put that weight back on. If the price I have to pay for all those years of abusing myself is that I need to keep working out hard in order keep my body from blowing up again, that's okay. I'm a little looser with my diet now, but I still work out hard 4 to 5 times per week. I still consider the ellitpical machine to be my go-to activity, because it's the most efficient calorie burner, but now that I'm fit there's a lot more that I can do. The first thing I added was swimming, then bicycling, and most recently I've started working out on a rowing machine. I still walk, too, but it's just one of many activities.

I also started doing some weight training. I don't do Cross-Fit, but I worked with a trainer on a style of weight training that has more cardio value than traditional programs. It involves a mix of ordinary lifitng with little to no rest in between exercises, and a lot of "loaded carries" - which means walking with weights!

I want to emphasize that I was lucky. I found an activity that my body could stand despite the way I had abused it for so long. I was able to build up to very high intensity on that activity, and I really can't explain that.

Richard Schwartz, 2015-07-11

Thank you for sharing, Richard. For every step I walked, you did two. As I told Nathan, I can't even compare my achievement. The best message is that you are able to keep the weight off. That is way more difficult than losing it in the first place.

Volker Weber, 2015-07-11

Richard, that is so great. More power to you.

Mariano Kamp, 2015-07-11

A friend of mine underwent a HUGE transformation and he's been a champion of many. I encouraged him to blog the experience.

Dave is an inspiration to me.

Here's the link to his blog:

Eric Mack, 2015-07-11

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