| Lisa Duhm |
Washington (dpa) – US politicians are in the final phase of election campaigning before Tuesday’s mid-term vote. But for some of them, a small gadget keeps track of another race: Who can walk the most number of steps in a day?
Fred Upton and Denis McDonough are professional opponents. Upton is a Republican and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee in the House of Representatives.
McDonough is a Democrat and President Barack Obama’s chief of staff.
With just days before Tuesday’s by-elections, it would seem the two have enough to disagree about. But their newest rivalry has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with how many steps they have taken.
Modern pedometers – small digital wrist gadgets like Fitbit or FuelBand – register every movement. When people wearing them come face to face, the first thing they usually do is compare who has walked the most.
John Boehner, the most powerful Republican in the country and third in line to the presidency as Speaker of the House, is also obsessed with his device, constantly checking how others are doing, the Washington Post reported.
In order to stay ahead of the game, Upton has ordered office conferences to take place walking in circles, not sitting at table.
Upton has racked up 2,000 steps in 20 minutes at such a meeting – but he can only match his record 18,000 steps by jogging at day’s end.
The competition is not just between Upton and McDonough, but also within larger forums like Capitol Hill staffers and the State Department.
Most of Upton’s office have joined the race. The spokeswoman for his committee, who talked to dpa on condition of not using her name, said she had to think about it for a while before getting on board.
“I had been interested in buying one for some time, but it was only my boss’ increased interest that gave me the final push,” she said.
The new political fitness push goes along with first lady Michelle Obama’s own campaign for a healthy America. Although she complains about how long it has taken Obama to quit smoking, and that he likes to take guests out for burgers and fries, Michelle herself has arm muscles that are the envy of the nation.
At age 53, the president does work out 45 minutes a day – and was captured recently in illicit photos by a fellow exerciser at his hotel while on a foreign trip.
The Internet health site WebMD calls the Obamas the fittest couple in America. And The New York Times has published tips about how to get arms like Michelle’s.
Online groups keep track of daily steps, where users can document their weight, their daily calorie intake and their sleep rhythm, and share it with friends.
“The Fitbit motivates me to achieve my daily step target and take more steps every day,” wrote one anonymous user on the company’s forum.
In a society where drive-through weddings and drive-through-viewing of the dead at funerals have joined drive-through eateries, walking is for many Americans no longer a daily activity.
On average, Americans walk about 5,100 steps a day, compared to 7,200 for Japanese and 9,700 for Australians and Swiss, according to a scientific study in 2010 in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.
Fred Upton can laugh at those numbers. He walks 1,000 steps from his office to the Capitol, and 10,000 steps are his absolute daily minimum.
In a Washington filled with ambitious and competitive careerists, he is determined to keep one step ahead of his rivals.