By Jennifer Ward, RD, LDN, CLC, CPT
It doesn’t take much work to find articles supporting the idea that accumulating 10,000 steps per day is equal to five miles worth of activity. According to those articles, that amount of mileage will put anyone on the path to achieving good health. I’ve participated in plenty of step promotions myself dating back to probably more than ten years ago. At that time, the plastic pedometer that could be hooked to a waistband presented multiple issues, including but not limited to; accidental resetting, the battery running out, forgetting to put it on and steps simply not registering. A personal favorite pedometer mishap story came from a client who said that he had a brand new pedometer for about ten minutes. Then he took a trip to the restroom, and the pedometer fell into a toilet that was programmed to flush automatically.Now with so much new technology, there are many more activity tracker options. But are the problems of the past pedometers gone? Can we all count on step-tracking as an accurate way to measure calorie-burning and the level of work that is actually being performed? Before answering those questions, here are a few things to consider:
Few people consider the effort
put into a step. In my personal experience, I found that running consistently brought me fewer steps than expected due to the fact that the stride length is longer. But each step takes more effort. Conversely, 2,000 mini-steps taken around the office during the day may not even come close to covering just one mile. Not to mention the fact that the intensity that the “steps” are performed would also make a dramatic impact on end results.A few years ago, I met a woman who worked the cash register in a cafeteria. She never worked out, struggled with multiple health issues, but claimed that according to her pedometer she walked 10 miles per day (about 20,000 steps). There is no way she covered that distance; if she had, her fitness level and health would have been entirely different.More recently, I ran a weight loss program this past fall. Participants were instructed to report how many miles they exercised
each week. Exercise was defined as a separate session rather than counting all movement throughout the day. I knew something was wrong when one participant, who had a sedentary desk job and had struggled with fitting consistent workouts into her schedule, reported that she covered 28 miles one week. 28 miles is equivalent to doing a 4-mile walk every day (which she was not even coming close to), but that is the conversion her activity tracker gave her. Again, there is another example of an extreme over-estimation of activity.With that said, there is value in moving more and taking more steps. A recent article published in the Spring 2015 Weight Management Matters Journal reported that extra activities of daily living movement in lean subjects amounted to an extra 352 +/- 65 calories burned per day compared to obese subjects.
For the client that is not ready to commit to any type of formal exercise program, wearing an activity tracker and aiming for more steps can be a wonderful place to start.The best way to honestly
assess activity and garner the best results would be to track steps as steps. Don’t convert them into mileage or anything else. Eventually, each individual using this method will figure out how many steps are needed given their current eating plan to lose weight, maintain weight and/or reach their health goals.
Measured in Strides
Stride length can be quite a bit different from one individual to another. So for some, 2,300 steps may equal a mile, while for others, it may only take 1,700 steps. Over time, the difference between actual and estimated distance becomes greater and greater, as does the estimated number of calories burned.
Track the Exercise Separately
The next step is to make the effort to track exercise mileage separately and total it each week. Actual mileage gives a much more accurate account of the volume of work done in comparison to tracking steps or minutes. For activities including walking, running, elliptical training or rowing, just reporting mileage as is can work. When it comes to swimming laps, the distance should be multiplied by 4 since 1 mile of walking is equivalent to about 4 miles of swimming. Cycling is easier so distance should be divided by 3, as about 3 miles of cycling
is equivalent to 1 mile of walking. For outdoor activities, using a Garmin watch
, the Nike app, or the Map My Run app are just a few of the options.In conclusion, following the method above will reduce the potential risk of overestimation and improving the odds of accurately assessing activity to produce the best possible results for 2016 and beyond.Get the best results for your workouts, subscribe
to our newsletter! Len Kravitz, PhD. Reducing sedentary behavior and metabolic consequences of our technological society. Weight Management Matters
, Spring 2015. 13 (4), 1, 8-10.