diamond geezer

 Friday, January 23, 2009

Walking the tube
"An alternative map of the London Underground has been published showing the number of paces required to walk between stations. The central London Tube map has been adapted by insurance firm PruHealth to encourage people to take more exercise."
Wahey, this sounds fun. Health and mapgeekery - a perfect PR mix. You might want to have a look at the map before proceeding any further. The BBC have it here [map/article], and the Evening Standard have it here [map/article]. Go on, I bet you can't resist. And now let's carry on with the story.
"It shows, for example, how alighting at St Paul's and walking 947 steps to Bank would burn almost 30 calories - equivalent of a double vodka."
a bit of a rubbish tube mapBlimey, it's almost 1000 steps between St Paul's station and Bank station. The researchers asked volunteers with pedometers to check, apparently, which is how they arrived at this very accurate figure of 947. I wonder what sized volunteer they used? And 947 steps equates to 30 calories, allegedly. They worked this out by calculating that "it took about 4.5 seconds to walk 10 steps at a rate of four miles per hour", and "at this rate, walkers burned about three calories per 100 steps". That's very brisk walking, especially for central London, but the maths sounds about right.

But hang on, surely a double vodka contains more than just 30 calories? Indeed, a few minutes of internet research reveals it contains more like 100. You'd have to march from St Paul's to Bank and back and back again to walk off a double vodka. The PR guff accompanying this survey is proving somewhat inaccurate. I wonder whether anything else might be wrong?
"The shortest walk is between Cannon Street and Monument, which takes 99 steps..."
Erm, is it really only 99 steps from Cannon Street to Monument? That sounds a bit low. The two stations would have to be so close together that there'd be almost no track between them. In fact, I doubted this particular statistic so much that I've been to check it out for real. I started on the pavement outside the corner of Cannon Street station and walked east towards Monument, counting my steps as I went. After 99 steps I was standing outside the Halifax Building Society, opposite Abchurch Lane, less than halfway there. It took as many as 223 steps to reach the entrance to the staircase down to Monument station, more than double what this survey is claiming. I'm sorry, but whoever came up with "99 steps" was either innumerate or a liar (or else they were 14 foot tall, which I suspect is unlikely). Did nobody check these figures at all?
"...while the longest is King's Cross to Farringdon, which takes 2,438 steps. People in search of a real workout could attempt the entire Circle line at 31,536 steps."
Oh please. No sane person would walk from King's Cross to Farringdon just for the exercise, it's a 2km trek. It's not even the longest walk on the map, because that's the 2780 steps from Green Park to Victoria (clearly miscalculated, because it's 25% shorter than King's Cross to Farringdon in real life, but 15% more steps on the map). And as for walking the entire Circle Line, that's something only attempted by Open House charity striders, and it takes them all night. This is nothing more than a marketing manager going wild with a calculator.

Eager journalists at the Evening Standard were so inspired by the map that they went out and did some step-counting of their own:
Monument to King's Cross (Circle Line)
Quickest walk: 7,888 steps
Burns: up to 236 calories
Equivalent to: one chicken tikka masala.
Oh where to start with this rubbish? If you're walking from Monument to King's Cross, the quickest walk isn't around the Circle Line, via Liverpool Street. You'd walk direct, via St Paul's, which'd be about 30% shorter. All the lazy journo has done here is to add up seven consecutive numbers on a map. It's not even a very good map, because the designer has accidentally missed one of these seven numbers out (and several other numbers elsewhere). And in what alternative universe does one chicken tikka masala have 236 calories? Try nearer a thousand (which means you'd need to walk all the way around the Circle Line to shake it off). Next time the Evening Standard bemoans the poor quality of education in our nation's schools, maybe they should look closer to home first.
"Chief executive Shaun Matisonn said: "Taking 10,000 steps a day can help protect you against a wide range of diseases including strokes, diabetes and some types of cancer."
Taking 10,000 steps in central London can also get you run over, asthmatic and lung-blackened, but never mind that. This is merely an exercise to scare you onto the PruHealth website to sign up for expensive healthcare protection. Don't bother looking. Indeed the Pru's media team are so non-web-savvy that this survey isn't even mentioned in their list of recent press releases. PR fail, guys. But, interestingly, there is a press release from 15 June 2005 entitled "The London Underground route to healthy living", which involved a remarkably similar calorie-counting inter-tube-station online calculator. The chancers at PruHealth have simply recycled a four-year-old campaign by adding a map, and splashed themselves across the media with minimal effort.

Yes, it's a great idea to walk more each day. But no, it makes no sense to get off the tube six stops early and walk the last bit. And shame on the media outlets who've been tempted by the Pru's shiny map and published this marketing bluster as gospel truth, without thinking first.

Monday update: at last, a link to the official PruHealth map (but it's still wrong)


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