Monday, June 30, 2014

The Pros and Cons of a Fitbit or Other Step Counter

If you have been reading this blog (or follow me on Instagram) for a while, you know that I love my Fitbit Zip . It has motivated me to walk more, and I estimate that I now walk at least 3,000 to 5,000 steps more each day than before I got it (it’s really difficult for me to know exactly how much more I walk as I pretty much changed how much I walk the day I got it…). Before my Fitbit, I would have told you that there was no way for me to walk that much more. But tracking my steps and seeing how active (or inactive!) I am, really gets me moving. And walking more is not only good for my body but especially for my mind.

Here are some photos from recent hikes and walks:

Walk 01Walk 02Walk 03Walk 04Walk 05Walk 06

My Fitbit certainly makes me walk more. Since I check my Fitbit throughout the day, I get instant feedback on how much I’ve been walking. Over the past 1.5 years, I have found numerous ways to sneak in steps:
  • 10 minutes walking equals approximately 1,000 steps; to reach the daily recommended 10,000 steps, all you have to do is go for ten 10-minute walks. It’s a doable way to get those steps! I try to go for a short walk after each class I teach, and I also take a walking break every hour when I prep and correct papers.
  • Every minute counts! I used to think it wasn’t worth it to go for a walk unless I had at least half an hour. Now I get out of the house for frequent short walks: 20, 10, or even 5 minute mini walks.
  • Looking at my Fitbit reminds me to get up and walk around at least once per hour.
  • I now often walk when I am on the phone, an easy way to get steps…
While there are many pros of using a step counter, there are also some cons. The default daily step goal for the Fitbit is 10,000 steps. For most people that’s close to 5 miles (how many miles you walk when you take 10,000 steps depends on your stride length; usually, the taller your are and the longer your legs are, the longer your stride length).

10,000 steps is a lot, especially for someone who isn’t used to walking a lot. If you have an office job and don’t go for a long walk, it’s likely you are not anywhere near 10,000 steps on most days. It can be overwhelming to try to reach that goal. I think a better goal would be to increase your daily steps by maybe 1,000 or 2,000 steps and make that your goal for a week or two. Then you can increase your goal again, if you like.

The Fitbit lets you be friends with other Fitbit users. This can be very motivating, but it can also make you too competitive. I know I can’t compete with my long distance running friends, but it can still be frustrating when they log over 20,000 steps day after day after day… It’s important to know when to stop being competitive! 

The Fitbit only keeps track of the steps you take and not other activities. I often take barre classes and challenging yoga classes. However, since I take hardly any steps during these classes, it can look like I was just sitting on my behind all day… The same is true for weight lifting, swimming, etc. It’s very frustrating when I come home from a challenging barre class and my legs feel like jello, go for a 30-minute walk, and have only 3,000 to 4,000 steps to show for.

Finally, while I think it’s a good idea to get at least 10,000 steps daily on average, I think it’s okay (and even necessary) to have a low step day once in a while and rest. If you go for a 45 minute walk and don’t move much the rest of the day, you’ll like end up only getting between 5,000 to 6,000 steps. But I think that’s okay. Don’t let your Fitbit may make you feel “bad” about it! 

Overall, I would definitely recommend getting a step counter. We all have Fitbit Zips, and it has been a great tool to motivate us to walk more. Even the older kid, who was skeptical and told me he “didn’t have time to walk,” has come around and is walking now a lot more. But at the same time, it’s important to not take it too far and become obsessed with it. It’s supposed to be a tool to help us be more active, not more stressed!

Questions: Do you keep track of how much you walk? Why or why not?

Be well,