I have reviewed and tested a number of fitness trackers and no two have been exactly alike. Each has their own algorithms for measuring steps and calories burned. The discrepancies between two devices can be quite extreme but most encourage users achieve 10,000 steps a day but is that really necessary? We’ll see.
For some fitness trackers it seems like I need to walk to the moon and back to get to 10,000 steps and with others I can get to that magical number fairly easily on an active day. It got me wondering if such discrepancies makes a difference in how I feel about meeting those step goals.
I know for me, psychologically I feel better when I meet my step goal. When I’m using a fitness tracker that seems to under count my steps, I feel less motivated to walk. After all, if I have to walk 15,000 steps before the tracker shows 10,000, there’s no going to be many days I reach the goal, so why I even bother trying.
That’s why it’s important to make sure you get a fitness tracker that is accurate within a reasonable range or error and that’s why I test them.
Still, there are those days when it is impossible to get to 10,000 steps due to, well, LIFE. For example, today I had to take my son to soccer practice in the morning, go shopping (got a few steps in there), attend a funeral in the afternoon (uhm, not much of a chance to get many steps in during a funeral), and then attend another family event in the evening where we were mostly sitting and talking. It was a busy day and I sure didn’t feel like jumping on the treadmill that night when I got home.
I was able to get in 5,000 steps and walked at least 250 steps 8 out 9 hours according to my Fitbit Versa (View on Amazon) that I’m currently testing out. Most importantly, my dog Timmy didn’t run away, though I kept checking to make sure. It was bad enough that I had to attend a funeral; if my dog left me too it would have been a tragic day.
Okay, today was a little out of the ordinary but what about an ordinary day and trying to fit in 10,000 steps. How can we realistically do that? And do we really need to? I’ll get to that second question in a bit.
How Easy is it to Walk 10,000 Steps a Day?
Well, generally speaking most of us walk a mile in about 2,000 steps. Since I’m shorter than average I probably really need to walk more than 2,000 steps to walk a mile but to keep it simple, we’ll just keep it at 2,000 steps.
On the treadmill I can walk a mile in about 18 minutes and that’s not leisurely walking either. It’s a good steady non-stop pace of about 3.5 – 3.7 mph with some running tossed in. If I only walk, it takes about 20 minutes to get to a mile. So, to get to 10,000 steps I’d need to walk for 100 minutes.
So now I know I need to walk for 100 minutes to reach 10,000 steps – approximately. And if I’m active from about 8am to 8pm which I usually am, that’s 12 hours of time to get my steps in.
There’s 720 minutes in 12 hours and if I divide that by 100 minutes I get 7.2 minutes; so that means I need to walk 7.2 minutes every hour for 12 hours to get to 10,000 steps. This isn’t exact science but it puts it into perspective.
How practical is it to walk for 7.2 minutes every hour for 12 hours? If you have a desk job with only 2 breaks and a lunch period detached from your ball and chain, you’re not going to be able to get up and walk for 7.2 minutes every hour.
You might be able to work in 10 to 20 minutes of walking, depending upon how long your breaks are but that’s about it. That means, you’re either going to have to get a lot of steps in before your workday and/or after it.
I work out of my house, so you’d think it would be easier for me to get up and take a break every hour but nope. Writing an article like this can easily take 3-4 hours, much longer if I’m writing an article that includes a lot of research material. I can easily find myself sitting for hours at a time without realizing it.
Luckily, most fitness trackers have move reminders and Fitbit wants you to walk at least 250 steps 9 hours out of the day, and that usually does get me up and walking. However, 9 times 250 is only 2,250 steps. You’d really need to walk 1,111.1 steps each of those 9 hours to get to 10,000 steps.
How long does it take to walk 1,111.1 steps? At moderate intensity the average person walks about 100 steps per minute so that means you or I would have to walk for 11.1 minutes 9 times a day.
Doing all this math makes me realize why it’s so HARD to walk 10,000 steps a day. That’s 5 miles! That’s 99.9 minutes of walking at a moderate pace. That’s a lot of walking! No wonder I hardly ever get to 10,000 steps and I’m out hiking regularly and testing fitness trackers for a living.
Do We Really Need to Walk 10,000 Steps a Day to Be Healthy?
The good news is that there’s nothing magical about 10,000 steps a day and you don’t really need to make that your goal, although you can and that’s fine. The more important things to consider are your intensity minutes and that you’re getting up and moving frequently throughout the day.
In fact, just sitting too much increases your chances of developing cardiovascular disease and cancer. Not to mention being hunched over a computer isn’t the best for your spine and posture.
So, you’re not a fitness failure if you don’t walk 10,000 steps a day. It’s okay to lower your goal to something more realistic, especially if you’re meeting 150 minutes of intense exercise each week.
I’ve lowered my step goal to 7,500 for the Fitbit Versa and not only is it more achievable but it also gives me that positive mental boost when I meet it but of course, I’m also making sure I get about 30 minutes of intense exercise nearly every day too.
Intense exercises are those that generally get your heart rate up in the cardio zone. For me, that’s 120-139 bpm.
So yeah, don’t freak out or give up if you don’t meet that 10,000 step goal. For one, it’s not that easy to meet and two, there’s nothing medically magical about that number. It’s more important to put your focus on your overall physical activity throughout the day.
I wouldn’t set the step goal too low, unless you’re just starting out. You do need to encourage yourself to be active but if you’re having trouble getting to 10,000 steps there’s other things you can do and should be doing to improve your physical health such as not sitting for prolonged periods of time and making sure you get your heart rate up enough throughout the week.
Of course, if you’re starting out, make sure to consult with a doctor before beginning any kind of fitness routine. Not only will this ensure you don’t have any medical issues that need addressed but also help you gauge your progress as your health improves, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, BMI, and possibly blood sugar.
Really, all I’m concerned with is keeping my dog but whatever works!