Step It Up

Counting your steps to better health...walking.

Image of legs walking along a sidewalk.Recent talk about marathons and jogging programs started a foray into exercise possibilities. While running is very accessible and requires minimal equipment, there’s something that’s even simpler... Walking.

Walking can be a good way to get exercise, but we also do a lot of it on a daily basis through our normal routines. How much exactly? Well, that depends. But it doesn’t have to be a mystery.

Measure Your Steps

I recently received a pedometer as a gift from someone who had discovered it as a good tool to measure daily activity levels. It uses accelerometers to monitor rhythmic motions made by the body as it moves around. Modern versions are less picky than their predecessors—they can be tossed in a pocket or purse without worry about positioning or orientation.

Since I started using it, I have a much better idea of how much exercise I get through the course of a day. Over time, as I tracked my daily data in a spreadsheet, I’ve determined a baseline, as well as a sense of how various things impact my daily physical activity.

Covering Ground

There is no shortage of step-counting information out there, including suggested daily step-count goals and other advice. The most common general recommendation is to strive for 10,000 steps per day. But within that lie more details as well. My pedometer keeps track of the total steps, as well as the "exercise steps" which represent how much time and distance I cover at a moderate or higher exercise level of 2 mph or more (such as the time I spend running to the bathroom, rather than walking). It counts calories burned and daily distances, too.

Of course, the appropriate goals for each person will vary depending on their capabilities. The point is not to hold yourself to a seemingly significant number, but to determine what the goals should be for your own situation. Frankly, the numerical figure might be less important than gaining comparative insight from the data by watching normal activity patterns. It can be surprising to learn exactly how active or inactive a day has been. Monitoring that makes it easier to see the impact of daily choices and make adjustments as desired.

Staying Motivated

With the knowledge provided by the step data and a few basic benchmarks, a pedometer can be a great tool to track and motivate your activity level. When I check the count periodically throughout the day, it encourages me to step up my movement. I take the stairs more (actually all the time now), I walk the long way around, I make a separate trip to the mailbox instead of checking it on the way in. And when I do enough of that, sometimes the counter helps me decide it’s ok to take a break too.

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