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To determine what happens when healthy, active people cut back on their physical activity, researchers at the University of Missouri asked study participants to cut their level of activity to below 5000 steps per day. The results will surprise you. Check out this report.

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A simple walking program can do more for your physical and emotional health than you ever imagined, including fighting depression. Here Bob Sallis, MD makes a great case for walking.

If you are doing a charity walkathon through social media with friends from all over the place, what’s stopping you from walking in some of the most beautiful places in the world. You and your friends can monitor your steps and choose exotic places all over the world to meet and encourage one another virtually.

One such place could be the Skikoku Pilgrimage in Japan. You could support a cause like Japanese Tsunami relief while visiting some of the treasures of Japan itself.

(Please credit Walkopedia.net and Nils Wetterlind’s for the details below.)

INTRODUCTION

The Shikoku pilgrimage was founded by Kōbō-Daishi (Kukai), 774 – 835AD, who was the founder of the Shingong arm of Buddhism. It circles the whole of Shikoku, the smallest and least developed of the four main Japanese islands, for some 1200 kilometres in all.

There are 88 temples along the route, most of which were visited or founded by Kobo-Daishi himself. There are four main ‘clusters’ of temples; clockwise, from north, in Sanuki Province, Awa Province (where I was), Tosa and Ehime. Each cluster will take you about a week on foot. Most non-pilgrims tend to focus on one or other of the clusters. The rest of the temples are mainly scattered, few and far between, on the south and west coast.

This is an extremely important pilgrimage for Japanese Buddhists and, although a lot of people nowadays travel by bus or car, walking (or as I did, bicycling) is getting more popular again in recent years. It is a pilgrimage full of ancient rituals, lots of interesting trivia, and is deeply rewarding on all levels.

THE PILGRIMAGE

BEGINNING
You start the pilgrimage not on Shikoku island, but on Mt Koyasan, south of Osaka. Kukai built a series of temples here, and is now ‘resting in eternal meditation’, as they rather elegantly put it: the senior monks bring him food and drink every day. You go from Osaka Namaeki station on a rickety and increasingly scary (but beautiful) train ride up the mountain, and then take a cable car up to the top of the mountain. Go early, it’s a 90 minute trip, you’ll want to have at least 5-6 hours here, and then you have to take the bus down to Tokushima, on Shikoku island (another 3 hours).

Koyasan is a quite amazing temple town with about 3,000 inhabitants, perched right on top of the mountain. The first thing to do is to go to Kongobuji, the main temple; here, you get your Nokyocho (stamp book). In each temple in Koyasan and on the pilgrim route, a monk or a nun will stamp it and write beautiful calligraphy for a fee of 300 yen, as proof of your visit. You then walk down to Okunoin, Kōbō-Daishi’s grave, on the other side of Koyasan. Here, you ask for protection during your pilgrimage. Then walk back up and visit as many of the other temples as you fancy, and then go back to the cable car and head off.

You must start your pilgrimage on Shikoku island at Temple 1, Ryouzennji, but after that you can hop and skip and jump in any direction and order you fancy. I recommend that you, after Koyasan, head back to Osaka and take the Highway Bus from Nanbaeki station to Tokushima and stay the night there. I stayed in the excellent (and cheap, 6,000 yen) Sunroute Hotel just opposite the bus terminal. You can find this, and tons of other hotels in Tokushima, on line.

PLANNING – SLEEPING & EATING

From now on, though, you won’t find anything online at all, and it is imperative that you book your accommodation well in advance, especially if you are going in the busy season. By far the coolest thing to do is to stay in the temples that offer accommodation: Shukubós, they’re called. Each room sleeps up to four, but you always get a private room if you have booked, i.e. you are not expected to share a room with strangers. A typical Shukubó room is just a square room with tatami mats, with a closet full of futons and blankets. If you’re by yourself or just the two of you, pile up the futons and you’ll be fine, otherwise it might take some getting used to. The Shukubós I stayed at had fabulous communal baths with great showers and hot tubs, steam rooms etc. You eat communally, dinner at six sharp, you eat what you are served, simple but delicious Japanese food. Many people plan their pilgrimage according to where the Shukubós are located; you should, too. There is only one way to get hold of them that I have found, and that is through the ‘Shikoku Japan 88 Route Guide’ which I bought at Temple 1, and which you must order from shikoku@buyodo.co.jp or http://www.buyodo.co.jp. This vital book has all the info you need: perhaps buy a decent 1:50,000 road map as well, as the maps in the book are often of different scales, and a bit confusing if you want to walk in a non-chronological fashion. You must then find a Japanese person somehow to call and book each Shukubó well in advance for you: and be aware that almost nobody you will deal with during all of this speaks a word of English.


Your other choice is Ryokans, traditional style Japanese inns: you’ll take pot luck here, though: some are wonderful and others are little more than a suburban house with three guest rooms and zero atmosphere. Go for Shubukós if you can.

Both the Shukubós and the ryokans will include a Japanese breakfast in the rate. If miso soup, fermented beans and rice is not for you, tough. As for lunch, it’s pack-a-snack wot rules. Unless you happen to be in the middle of a town, like at Temples 16 & 17, it’s hard to find restaurants. Luckily, every supermarket and convenience store (Circle K is their 7/11) sells really great, healthy fresh foods; little sushi things, goyozas, udon noodles, etc. And every now and then, you’ll walk past a wee ramen place (Shikoku is famous its udon noodles), so just stop and grab something. 1000 yen will feed you heartily and deliciously almost anywhere in Shikoku. But it is very sporadic, so always carry food, because there may not be any at all to be found on your way.

IN THE TEMPLES

At Temple 1, which you get to by taking the train from Tokushima to Bandoueki and then walking for 20 minutes along the marked road, you buy your Hakui, a white cotton vest, which identifies you as a pilgrim, and a wooden staff. You can buy lots of other stuff, like a silly hat, rosaries, special prayer name slips and so on. Go pilgrim crazy, if you really must. You are then probably the sort of person who has little Buddha statues in your back garden (the garden gnomes de nous jours). For the rest of us, a white vest and a staff will suffice in order to show respect without inducing ridicule.

You can also learn all the various Buddhist temple rituals and memorize the Sutras before you go, and this is of course all fine, and kind of the point, if you are a practicing Buddhist. If you are not, here is what you need to do in the temple in order to be respectful:

Enter temple gate: bow towards the main building
There will be a cleansing stone nearby with little water scoops. Fill the scoop, rinse your right hand, then your left, then your mouth, and then hold it up facing you, and let the remaining water run out.
Ring the bell (or, more likely, gong the gong) once; this marks that you have arrived to worship.
Go to main temple, light a candle, toss a coin in the offering box, and say a little prayer of your choosing.
Now go and get your stamp and calligraphy, then turn around at the entry gate and face the main temple, bow once, and leave.

Every temple has its own history: some temples have profound and very meaningful stories attached to them, like a certain spot where Kōbō-Daishi had an insight which has since affected millions of people; some are rather disturbing (‘….and if you can’t see your reflection in the pond next to the southern Hall, you will die in three years’) and some are ridiculously mundane (‘Kōbō-Daishi once ate a mackerel in this place and there is a statue of him holding said mackerel in the eastern Hall’). For me, the buildings temselves and their setting mean more than their history: Temple 8, for example, is where I found what I needed to find on this journey, but it wasn’t becasue ‘there is an ancient pine tree that looks like a dragon’ in the gardens.

WALKING THE WALK (OR BIKING THE BIKE)

Now you’re on your way, for whatever amount of time you have given yourself. I had a bad foot, which I hoped had healed by the time I set out, but it turned out it hadn’t, as I found out rather painfully between Temples 3 and 4. I was really rather despondent, hobbling along pathetically along the small village road in quite a lot of pain. Luckily, after about half an hour, I passed a little bicycle shop. Aha! Kōbō-Daishi looks after his pilgrims, you see. So I bought the cheapest bike, one of those typical schoolgirl bikes, no gears, and a little basket up front. Ten thousand yen. I later gave it to the rather bemused monk at my last temple. I named the bike Gerald. Smugly, I pedalled up the mountain to the next temple, looking rather ridiculous on my little girlie-bike: but who cares, and personal dignity has never been one of my main aims in life anyway. My smugness came to an abrupt end as I promptly got a puncture (‘panku’) and had to push the bike 4 km to the next temple. Aha! Kōbō-Daishi gladly takes you down a notch if you get too comfortable, you see. But a kindly old monk organized for the ‘panku’ to be fixed by a man who arrived in a spotless white overall, bowing profusely, and who took the bike away and returned it an hour later, still bowing, refusing to accept payment. I had spent the intervening time sitting in the sunshine, drinking green tea and eating cookies that I bought from the little stall outside the temple gate. Life is good on ‘Ohenro-san’ (pilgrim walk). You will, by the way, quite likely be given small gifts along the way by non-pilgrims. Accept graciously, it is extremely rude not to. This is important.

For what it’s worth, I’m glad I pedalled around the countryside on my schoolgirl bike, rather than having walked. My bottom hurt like, well, buggery I guess, and my knees ached, but I was still travelling under my own steam, and saw an awful lot more than I otherwise would have, given the limited amount of time I had. I am also sure that the sight of a Gajin-san in a white jacket pedalling away on a small girl’s bike, knees up to his chin, provided much merriment to the locals, which is of course every foreign visitor’s solemn duty.

It is very easy to get lost on the Ohenro-san, especially if you don’t go in a numerical order. I got severely lost twice, losing three or four hours both times. The official signs are old and few and far between, and also in Japanese, so not much use to you and me. So look out for these little stickers, that are placed strategically throughout the route:

The thing is not to worry too much. As long as you are in one of the four clusters, all you need to do is to get yourself to the next temple, which you can do in a few hours, tops, and there will be a kind person to help you with whatever you need. Almost anything can be achieved by bowing a lot, using the words ‘Sumimasen’ (Excuse me, please), ‘Gomennasai’ (Sorry, please forgive me) and ‘Aroigato Gozai-mas’ (Thank you so very much) a lot, bowing some more, and pointing at maps and aching feet or whatever. And always, always smiling and talking softly.

You will also have transcendental moments when standing all by yourself in places like this:

WHEN TO GO

I went early December, after the main season has finished, but I think I got the very very best of the Ohenro-san: crisp, clear, fresh air, turning leafs making the scenery ridiculously beautiful and, best of all, I was the sole visitor in more than half of the temples. Just me and the monks (or the nuns). During holidays and peak times there will be 47 buses in the car park and 700 ‘bus pilgrims’ in every temple, which I gather can reduce the spiritual experience somewhat.

I would say, contrary to most of the websites that I have read, that mid-November is the earliest you should go. Shikoku being on the same latitude, roughly, as Greece and southern Italy, the weather will hardly be arctic in winter. Japan gets steaming hot and very humid May through October, which you can’t protect yourself against. So go in the early winter or very early spring, and pack a sweater.

The Mambo Health Gaming (MamboHG) team has been thinking quite a bit about the many positive market and social trends we are witnessing. We are optimistic these trends will continue and additional future development looks positive as well.

With MamboHG’s first product, MamboWalk, we are acting on the positive trends in fundraising, social networks & gaming and health & wellness.

Fundraising

The growth in walkathons has been incredible over the last 20 years and the growth of online giving has also been growing at rapidly for the last several years. It is great to see two highly beneficial social goods are both moving to the same trajectory. At MamboWalk, we are inspired by these trend.

Yet there are a lot of barriers for charities to put together a viable event. The logistics of putting on a major walkathon are time consuming and expensive. There are also barriers created for the walkers, for many of the major events the minimum dollars raised can be as much as $2500.

Still, these drawbacks have not been enough the stifle the growth of the walkathon. We believe that many charities and walkers lack the resources to do a major charity walk, instead would be interested participating in a MamboWalk.

Social Media & Gaming

Also worth noting is the growth of social gaming (like Farmville) and the technology of geolocation (foursquare). Social media is no longer in its infancy. The ideas around what makes social online games fun and engaging are codifying. Due to the success Facebook, there is an audience that understands the current social and casual game mechanism.

Health & Wellness

People are looking for ways to engage in better health behaviors. Healthcare costs are rising. So, groups such as businesses and insurers are search for engaging healthy activities. Walking works. Providing a way to engage in wellness each and everyday is a core goal of MamboWalk.

The Mambowalk.com team is optimistic. We believe in folks desire to do good by doing great!

This great blog by Wendy Bumgardner examines just what an expensive proposition a Walkathon is… and asked if the money is getting to the finish line.

At MamboWalk.com our goal is to help charities raise more money and at the same time help people get fit. I would love to chat with Wendy sometime to learn more about her mission!!!

Charity Walk Backlash?

Are charity walks and runs worth they money put into them? Smart Money has a feature article on the history and evolution of charity walks, runs, rides and extreme sports. They bring up many debating points and feature one critic who staged an anti-walk “Walk to Prevent Walking.” Smart Money: Are Charity Walks and Races Worth the Effort?

I’ve walked and volunteered for several large charity walks, including the 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk (when hosted by Pallotta TeamWorks) and the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer. Both of those involve raising thousands of dollars in order to be allowed to participate, plus have a challenging walking distance to complete each day. Similarly, I’m signed up for the For A Cause France 2011 walk/ride and must both fundraise and train to complete a half marathon a day for five days.

Do charity walks bring in new money?
What was the net effect? Were my sponsors just paying to send me on a walking vacation? Each time I walked I was able to raise the minimum from friends and relatives, and in addition I chipped in what the organizers said was the overhead cost to participate. Wouldn’t that same money have gone to breast cancer charities without me asking? I think not. I think that these events energize their participants as fundraisers to generate money that wouldn’t come through other means.

Would I have raised $3000 per year for breast cancer charities without signing up for a walk? In my case, no. I never did before. And I’ve never fundraised except when required to participate. For example, I’ve been on relay teams where fundraising was suggested for a designated charity, but not required, so I didn’t fundraise (nor did other team members.) It takes time, effort, and stepping out of your comfort zone to ask people for money. It’s not something I do unless I have vowed to do it for a specific event. I think the same is true for most participants. They are not fundraisers apart from the events.

Do the charities really get enough income from these walks to justify the effort? That is a budgetary decision each charity makes each year. If they weren’t worth the effort, charities would move on to different methods of fundraising. The free market decides whether they are worth the effort. Any successful charity stops doing things that don’t work.

Splitting the market
I agree that the market is glutted with 5K/10K charity walks and runs in many cities. Often there are several to choose from on prime weekends, all competing for routes, racers and donations. But if competition is really so fierce, smart charities will look for better ways to raise funds.

What justifies the overhead costs?
The overhead costs don’t go into a black hole. Much of it pumps up the economy of the locale where the event is held. Overhead costs for these events include food, beverages, support vehicle rentals, and fees to local governments to rent parks, close streets and control traffic. That helps support the economy of the city where they are held. Participants often travel, at their own expense or included in the fundraising minimum, and that is also money into the economy for hotel nights, restaurant meals, and more. In boom times maybe this all seemed wasteful, but in a recession that is money those local communities sorely need and seek out.

Energizing participants to walk
But what sucked me into these events back in 2001 was the incredibly energy they generate in turning people into walkers. Those joining in are often new to fitness walking. They have hundreds of questions about shoes, blisters, walking clothing, training, energy snacks and sports drinks. Signing up for one of these events is a great way to motivate yourself to start a walking fitness program and stick with it.

My RFAC.org France walk is less than three months away. I finished my first half marathon of the season last weekend and I’m doing another one on July 4. I am far more serious about my distance training this year with that challenge looming in September than I was last year without it. Multi-day walk training schedule

The cause is worth the effort
I myself questioned before signing up whether it was worth it from the charity perspective. I’ll be funding the event overhead as my own donation. Meanwhile, I’ll be bringing in at least $2500 for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure to fight breast cancer. That’s a good thing. Since making the decision, one of my colleagues was diagnosed with breast cancer. Because of the research done over the past 15 years, she has a better chance of being a long term survivor.

Many charities and participants say that raising awareness for their cause is a big benefit of hosting a big, visible event. There are many opportunities for press interviews about the charity and the cause. People see a sea of pink shirts walking and they may be more inclined to do breast self exams and get a mammogram. While pink ribbon-labeled products seem to be everywhere, that wasn’t the case before these charity walks ramped up. Other diseases and causes hope to break into that same level of awareness.

What do you think?

 
Even a journey of a thousand miles, starts with a single step. This is a proverb most are very familiar with. To do anything new you need to get started. In the case of a long journey, it’s a step. 

Mambo Health Gaming believes that everyone aspires to be more healthy. We also believe that there are many different things that drive people to make positive health behavior changes. Even with all the different things that motivate us individually, it remains true that if we don’t find what motivates us to take that first step, we will not make it to where we want to go. Sometimes that motivation can be as simple as a nudge here and there to change our path. Small adjustments in what we do, just a little bit at a time. 

This is why we are so excited with our first product for motivating people to take on healthier habits incrementally: MamboWalk an Everyday Walk a Thon -www.mambowalk.com

 

For MamboWalk, we choose a powerfully simple activity to build our game around, a footstep. Proverb aside, you truly cannot be successful in our game with out taking steps. Steps are relatively easy to measure. When done repeatedly, steps creates large numbers that can act as currency. Increasing steps is proven to benefit one’s health. Simple!

The question is: What will make us take some extra steps today? Tomorrow? And 6 months from now?

We think the answer is different for each of us, yet at the same time have a reoccurring theme. 

START- You need to start! OK, we got that out of the way!

TREND- You need to monitor how many steps you take, do the steps again (or even more) the very next day. And so on…

FRIEND- You need to tell your friends. They will keep you on track. Engage them in what your are doing. Peer pressure works for both good and bad habits.

‘be’CAUSE- You need to finds something important to you, that is outside yourself and make them a stakeholder, like a charity. Make a promise to someone other than yourself, someone who really needs it.

CARROTS- You need to show off your accomplishments and relish small wins along the way, celebrate your successes. 

STICKS- You need consequences that are not quite punishment, but are geared to get you back on track. 

RESULTS- You need to recognize that the results are a combination of some or all of the things above.

We have used these behavior drivers all our lives to nudge our behavior to create new habits, (some of them good and some of them bad). It seems that when it comes to healthy behaviors we’ve become forgetful of how we have created progress in the past. 

MamboWalk is using the very simple measurement of STEPS and creating a powerful, fun and rewarding game. We are building in TRENDS, FRIENDS, ‘be’CAUSES, CARROTS, and STICKS that have been used for ages in creating positive behavior change.

 

There are a lot of other great books, stories and blogs about the idea of changing health behavior using Nudges, Carrots and Sticks, Friends and Trends.

At Mambo Health Gaming, we aspire to take this body of thoughtful research and create practical interfaces to make real changes in peoples lives through fun and games. 

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