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A single journey begins with ten thousand steps... sometimes

Updated: Sep 18, 2022

Like lots of people, I wear a fitness tracker, a Fitbit to be exact, although I suppose I should mention there are other brands available!

And like lots of people I try to achieve a daily goal of 10,000 steps. Some days I manage it, some days I don’t. If you’re like me, you get a certain sense of achievement when you feel the notification buzzing on your wrist.

Then again, maybe I’m just easily pleased.

But as you know, it’s not easy to get your steps in when the weather is bad, or when a deadline is looming, or when you just can’t be bothered to go outside.

Bad weather reduces your activity
Walking in the rain? No thanks!

Do you need to hit 10000 steps every day?

First, 10,000 steps is an arbitrary figure.

It’s the result of a marketing ploy by a pedometer manufacturer round the time of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. They suggested 10K steps as a suitable goal and the figure just stuck in people’s minds.

In fact, there’s no solid scientific evidence that 10000 steps will actually be better for you than 8000 steps or 12000 steps. It all depends on your circumstances – your baseline fitness, overall activity, exercise levels or if you have underlying health issues.

It’s just a nice round number.

And it sounds like a lot of steps.

And most people would struggle to achieve that every day given how busy they are.

Secondly, if you compare fitness brands, you’ll see that counting steps isn’t always accurate.

If I wore two different brands of tracker at the same time, they would give me different measurements. After all, how much technology can you expect for a £99 tracker? So on those days where you feel you’ve done lots of steps but still fall short of your goal, don’t despair.

Blame it on the tracker.

‘Computer says no’.

How do fitness trackers work?

Look at the tracker on your wrist. The flashing light is monitoring your activity levels by attempting to measure your pulse and heartrate.

As your activity increases, your body needs more oxygen, so your heart works faster to pump oxygen-rich blood to your muscles and your pulse increases. That’s why running up the stairs leaves you out of breath and a little bit rosy-cheeked.

Other sensors track duration, intensity, frequency and patterns of movement depending on the device. This information is then stored on the device and/or sent to an app so you can see what you’ve been up to (or not!)

A second type of tracker is usually worn around the chest so that it can measure the activity of your heart more accurately. Athletes and serious sport players tend to use these since they want better data to make improvements in their training protocols. For us mere mortals, it’s unlikely we’ll need one of those.

Fitness tracker band
Most brands of trackers will measure similar things

So, why do I use a Fitbit?

Well, like many freelancers I spend a large part of my day sitting at a desk, and when you’re working on an interesting project or have a tight deadline, time does slip by very quickly.

It’s easy to reach lunchtime and realise that the only time you’ve moved away from your desk is to grab a cup of coffee.

Clearly this isn’t ideal – a sedentary lifestyle is the scourge of many knowledge workers and it isn’t that great for your health. Especially if you also decide to spend the evening sat in front of the TV.

Obesity rates have been rising for years and this is partly down to lower activity levels. Generally work has become less physical, technology has made life less labour-intensive, and economic development means that home comforts reduce the need for us to move about.

Walking can have an impact on weight loss and improve health outcomes for those disposed to a sedentary lifestyle [1]. There is also a growing body of research to show that walking also has a positive impact on mental health [2] and there's definitely something invigorating about getting outside and picking up the pace.

My Fitbit will buzz if you’ve been sitting for an hour without moving, and it’s a gentle prompt to stand up, stretch, grab a glass of water, or to have a wander round the house or the garden.

So the main benefit for me is that it’s a reminder to move more often. Just wearing the tracker means I have a record of my daily activity and that’s enough to raise my levels of awareness.

Like I said, I’m easily pleased.

And out of sight is out of mind, so I need visible cues, otherwise I get caught up in what I’m doing and by Thursday I realise that I’ve not been outside that much.

If you’re regularly engaged in sport or gym-based exercise, trackers are great for… well, tracking.

You can see how many calories you’ve burnt, monitor your weight or the quality of your sleep, make sure you’re drinking enough water. You can keep an eye on all the basic elements of good health.

And while most people won’t use this data for anything other than a general idea of how active they are, if you’re working on a fitness-related goal, it can be a powerful motivator to measure your activity and see that you’re making progress.

Get your steps in by turning it into a social activity
Walking has many great health and social benefits

Getting back to our 10K steps.

Walking is a great low-impact way of increasing your daily activity and can help you keep a healthy weight. It can also be a great social activity.

So having a step count can be useful goal if you generally struggle to achieve a good level of activity. Having a walk before or after work is a great way to destress. Or why not have a walk at lunchtime? What about ‘walking meetings’ if you are office based?

Adjust the goal according to your circumstances.

Personally, I aim to get 10000 steps at least 3 days a week. That gives me enough motivation to stay active, but also gives me the freedom to adapt to my workload, gym sessions and social life.

Most weeks I exceed the 3-day goal and I feel pretty smug (not an appealing quality, I admit).

Your goal might range between 3000 and 8000 steps and that’s fine, just enjoy it. Every step counts. So rather than beat yourself up because you didn’t manage 10000 steps, set a realistic goal and enjoy the time spent away from your computer. I know I do.

What about you? Do you try to get 10K steps a day? How do you manage it?

[1] Macena, M., Da Silva Júnior, A., Praxedes, D., Vasconcelos, L., Pureza, I., Florêncio, T., & Bueno, N. (2022). Association between sitting/lying down, standing, walking time and number of steps per day with the hormonal profile and resting energy expenditure of women with obesity living in a low-income region. British Journal of Nutrition, 128(4), 646-652. doi:10.1017/S0007114521003615

[2] Kelly P, Williamson C, Niven AG, et al Walking on sunshine: scoping review of the evidence for walking and mental health. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2018;52:800-806.

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