The pedometer, more commonly known as a step counter or fitness tracker, has been around for centuries. To be exact, since 1780 when the Swiss inventor, Abraham-Louis Perrelet, invented the first pedometer. Tracking the number of steps we take on a daily basis has become a bit of an obsession in recent years, but understandably so! From walking and running to hiking or biking, being active every day is essential to maintaining overall health.
As a matter of fact, the number of steps an individual takes each day can now be used to predict their risk of developing potentially harmful chronic conditions like heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and obesity. Indeed, living an active life requires time as well as a vivid imagination, but just making the effort to get up and move will send you well on your way.
Are Step Counters really necessary?
Going to work or school, shopping at the grocery store, or literally walking and running for exercise can add up to a lot of steps. But do those steps amount to the 10,000 daily steps recommended by health experts? How many miles are 10,000 steps anyway?
Given that the average person, male or female, travels 2.1 to 2.5 feet with each stride, it is estimated that 2,000 steps are equivalent to one mile. This means that 10,000 steps are equivalent to 5 miles! Of course, some people have shorter and longer strides, so for these people, 10,000 steps may be somewhat more than or somewhat less than 5 miles.
If all that information felt like a lot of math to comprehend or keep up with from day to day, then you have likely gained a deeper appreciation for step counters already. Step counters have truly evolved over the years. Today, step counters not only track the number of steps you take, but also monitor your heart rate, sleeping patterns, GPS location, calories burned, and fitness activities (hence, their name change to fitness trackers). And thanks to modern technology, you no longer have to write your stats down on paper. Instead, you can back it all up into an app on your phone or computer.
Overall, step counters serve as convenient devices for keeping you on track with your fitness goals. There are many reasons why people wear their fitness trackers from when they wake up in the morning to when they go to sleep at night. However, one reason is to discover what number of steps is their average. Knowing the average number of steps you take on a daily basis is crucial to determining your fitness foundation as well as for deciding what lifestyle changes you can make to increase your step count.
Determining Your Average Daily Step Count and How to Give It a Boost
Again, step counters or fitness trackers take a lot of the guesswork out of determining the average number of steps you take each day. One easy way to do this is to wear your step counter from first thing in the morning until you go to bed at night for seven straight days. Each day, record your total steps as measured by your step counter in your phone, computer, or if you prefer, in a notebook. At the end of the week, add up your total number of steps and divide that number by seven. This is your average daily number of steps.
After learning the number of steps you take on average each day, you have a definite starting point from which to launch your fitness goals. In other words, pushing yourself from around 4,000 or 5,000 steps a day to 10,000 steps a day in a matter of a week or so is simply not realistic nor safe for your health. On the contrary, set weekly goals for yourself such as increasing your daily step count by 200 steps. After you reach that goal, repeat the same goal by increasing another 200 steps or challenge yourself to increase by 300 steps.
Slowly, but surely, continuing in this manner will get you to the recommended 10,000 steps per day. While this may sound like an impossible task or something that will take a long time to achieve, it is really the perfect illustration of how small lifestyle changes can produce large health improvements. Here are some examples of those small lifestyle changes:
• Walk around your house and remove any weeds you see
• Visit your neighbor down the street
• Sign up to become a dog walker
• Volunteer as a seater in a theatre
• Park further from the door at the shopping mall or grocery store
• Take the stairs instead of the elevator as much as possible
• Leave your car at home and travel on foot to more places
• Go window shopping
Studies show that the average adult takes around 5,000 steps per day. However, adults who use some form of step counter tend to exceed that number. One reason for this is that people may feel more motivated to get up and move while wearing the device. On the other hand, many fitness trackers now offer inactivity alerts which let you know if you have been sedentary for an extended period of time. So, your efforts along with the help of some technology will help you reach your destination of better health.
All Steps Are Not Created Equal…
Whatever activities you choose to partake in to reach your daily steps goal, you may be surprised to learn that your heart rate and calories lost will vary by the type of activity as well as where the activity is done. For example, a 30-minute walk on the sidewalk differs greatly from a 30-minute walk on the beach. There a few reasons for this, but they all revolve around the amount of energy you have to exert.
Consider athletes who train and condition their bodies. They find it advantageous to train and condition on different surfaces, like sand, grass, asphalt, and concrete. Each of these surfaces presents different advantages and disadvantages, so you should keep these in mind while striving to reach your daily goal of steps.
As you likely know, sand is a soft surface, so it absorbs some of the energy that your body delivers to the ground while exercising. Thus, the unstable, soft surface of sand forces your body to adapt particularly by activating your smaller stabilizing muscles. These muscles are typically not engaged on more solid, level ground. So, exercising on sand strengthens your legs considerably. At the same time, running on sand is much easier on your joints because it absorbs some of the impact. However, sand increases your risk of injuring your Achilles tendon and placing uneven stress on your body.
Meanwhile, grass surfaces are more solid than sand, but not all that level. Exercising on grass stimulates your body to adapt to low impact without overwhelming the muscles and bones. This also produces the activation of stabilizing muscles in the legs promoting more leg strength. Injury is still possible because uneven surfaces are not always obvious and grass may be dewy or wet increasing your chance of slipping.
Be it a sidewalk, road, or path through the park, the majority of people likely exercise on some form of asphalt or concrete. Asphalt and concrete offer the advantage of a consistently smooth surface, but its significant disadvantage is that it absorbs little to no impact from the body. Hazards, like traffic, potholes in the road, cracks in the sidewalk, or oil spills, can all cause injury.
What does all this mean for counting steps?
Just about any step counter, you purchase now will count your steps according to how your body moves. Some step counters are sensitive enough to distinguish you walking on asphalt from walking on the sand while others will require you to input the type of surface or activity.
Again, walking, running, or hiking may add up to different step totals. This is because while exercising on uneven ground, like sand and grass, your step counter will likely calculate a longer distance than exercising on level ground. Likewise, exercising on uneven ground will naturally elevate your heart rate more and cause you to burn more calories.
It is important you understand that fitness trackers are programmed with different internal formulas for calculating calories lost from tracked steps and heart rates. For this reason, calories lost as calculated by fitness trackers are usually not accurate. For instance, if a fitness tracker states you burned 1,000 calories, then, in reality, you may have burned only 600 calories or as much as 1,500 calories.
This is why researchers recommend that individuals rely on their daily step count to evaluate their health status and overall risk for disease. Counting calories consumed or burned can be tedious as well as frustrating. So instead, focus that energy on taking more daily steps and pay attention to how good you begin to feel.
If you’re thinking of buying a smartwatch that has amazing step counting capabilities, check out our curated list of the best fitness tracking smartwatch.
Blackmores. (2014, May). What is the best surface to run on?
Retrieved from https://www.blackmores.com.au/energy/surface-area
Bumgardner, W. (2018, February). How many average daily steps people walk: See how many steps per day the typical person takes.
Retrieved from https://www.verywellfit.com/whats-typical-for-average-daily-steps-3435736
Davies, S. E. H., & Mackinnon, S. N. (2006). The energetics of walking on sand and grass at various speeds, Ergonomics, 49(7): 651-660. doi: 10.1080/00140130600558023
Downey, S. (2012, August). Why fitness tracker calorie counts are all over the map.
Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/2012/08/fitness-trackers/
The Walking Site. (2017). 10,000 steps a day.
Retrieved from http://www.thewalkingsite.com/10000steps.html