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After years of avoiding cigarettes, the ponies, roulette wheels and the overconsumption of alcohol, drugs and fast food, I've succumbed to an obsession - numbers.

Specifically, I'm addicted to the numbers on my pedometer.

Click, click, click. Twelve steps - not the program - cover the distance from my kitchen to the front door.

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Click click click click click. About 6,500 steps on my daily power walk/light run before work.

Click, click, click. About 5,000 steps on my visit from my office to a nearby trail to visit the geese and ducks.

Click (pant), click (wheeze), click (wish for death). About 5,500 steps down and then up the gaspingly steep and winding Niagara Escarpment road near Brock University.

I've never had a head for numbers. Calculus is something I can spell, but don't ask me to do it. To a mathematician, pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, equal to 3.14159265. When I hear the word pi, I mentally precede it with "deep dish apple" or "life of" or "bye, bye Miss American." Trigonometry? Algebraic geometry? Ring theory? Are you kidding me?

I check my pedometer at least a dozen times a day. The number is a marvellous and measurable motivator. I aim for at least 10,000 steps daily, about eight kilometres, a figure endorsed by the medical community. Typically, I register between 13,000 and 16,000 steps daily during the work week, more on the weekend - as many as 27,000 steps - when I can take longer power walks.

Boosting the numbers has become a fixation. I park the car farther away in the parking lot, take the stairs instead of the elevator (within reason) and do an extra lap in the neighbourhood (1,200 steps). Since we don't have a dog any more, I take my pedometer out for a stroll. It has the advantage of not tearing my shoulder out of its socket when a squirrel scampers across the road.

I power walk first thing in the morning. When the alarm beeps at 5:30 a.m., I stifle the impulse to smash the radio against the wall. But then I remember the numbers, those sweet, sweet, addictive numbers. Like a modern-day gunslinger, I hook the pedometer onto my waistband, and out I go in all kinds of weather and in all seasons.

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Preferring to be mindful of my urban surroundings, I walk unplugged. I listen to sounds of snow crunching underfoot, birdsong, dry autumn leaves lightly scraping the pavement, geese honking overhead. My spirit is nurtured by the sight of a full moon and constellations, a blushing dawn, mist rising from the river, a baby raccoon peering at me from halfway up a tree trunk, a cat arching its back for a caress. The pedometer clicks into warp speed as I dodge startled skunks aiming their backsides at me.

When I return home, I'm buzzed that I've done something healthy. The numbers prove it. Equally delicious is my sense of smugness. I've become insufferable to my family and friends. When I approach, they busy themselves with urgent tasks such as alphabetizing their cereal boxes, or flee faster than Tea Partiers at a pride parade.

Power walking is familiar to me. At my peak, I once pumped my arms and legs about 40 to 60 kilometres a week. Finally I'd found an activity I loved to do. It didn't require an expensive gym membership or the exasperation of trying to match my schedule to fitness centre activities. But osteoarthritis did me in. At 54, I had my left knee surgically replaced.

More than a year after the operation, I hadn't budged. Fear of being injured again held me back. My sedentary lifestyle at work and home began to affect my physical health. A closetful of clothing no longer fit. I felt torpid, unwell, doughy. I also felt guilty - had I become a bionic woman just so I could sit on my butt or routinely trip airport security?

My family doctor, who warns me to slow down in other aspects of my life, began to drop hints that I needed to speed up in the fitness department. When she asked me about my exercise routine, I wittily replied: "Walking to Tim Hortons twice a day." My doc stared at me, then wrote something down on her clipboard.

Starting from scratch was going to be a challenge. On an impulse, I bought a pedometer. Not a fancy-schmancy pedometer that measures heart rate, blood pressure, hat size, displays the time in Kyrgyzstan and belts out Rolling Stones tunes. Just a simple device to count steps and distance.

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The addiction was immediate, my version of a drug. In a brief time, I went from user to pusher. Several of my acquaintances are now members of the click click clique.

There have been interesting side effects from all this walking. Cross-training is on the horizon. And I'm eating smarter. Not less, just smarter. If I'm going to make the effort to haul myself out of a warm bed every morning for my number fix, do I really want to cancel it out by regularly shoving junk into my mouth?

I've tried not to become addicted to that other set of digits, the ones on the bathroom scale. All I really need to know is that I'm healthier and my clothes fit once again.

Who would have thought that a tiny clicking device could be so motivational? Perhaps I have a head for numbers after all. Just don't ask me to do calculus.

Joan Wiley lives in St. Catharines, Ont.

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