Step trackers, especially popular brands like FitBit, were designed to motivate people to get moving more. Being able to count the number of steps a person takes in a day gives them the tools they need to assess their current fitness levels and set new goals. Some of these trackers can even be connected to smartphones, with apps that allow for additional tracking — like calorie intake, weight, and even a person’s heart rate.
These trackers seem like amazing devices that could potentially provide a lot of motivation to someone who wants or needs to move more. Step trackers have gained a ton of traction over the past few years, especially among those looking to hit new health and fitness goals. The problem? The goal of 10,000 steps per day isn’t based on science and could come with risks — especially for those with chronic diseases or an inactive lifestyle. And while many people start out strong, motivation seems to wane over time for many tracker users. So the real question is this: how do we set healthy goals and work up to the increased levels of improvement? And how do we maintain motivation to keep it up?
The Pros of Tracking Steps
Step trackers bring awareness to physical activity in the hustle and bustle of daily life. For many, being busy doesn’t equate to being physically active since so many working adults find themselves behind desks for much of the workday. Some might not realize how little exercise they’re actually getting each week. A fitness tracker can shine a light on the need for improvement.
Step trackers can do a lot to help with goal-setting. SMART goals are those that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. With a wrist band keeping track and encouraging a goal like 10,000 steps each day, it is much simpler to measure success than with a non-specific plan to “move more.”
The Cons of Tracking Steps
This all sounds great, but could there be a downside to having your fitness stats in eyesight at all times? According to Boston News, some who have adopted the trend have faced some obsessiveness with the worst aiming for 20,000 and even 50,000 steps in a day.
What’s worse, the push to reach 10,000 steps in a day isn’t based on sound science, according to The Guardian, which cites research that actually suggests 7,500 steps a day for decreasing health risks. It is also noted that a quick jump to this number of steps could be dangerous for those who have been sedentary for some time or who have a health condition.
Lastly, there is the issue that step counting doesn’t account for the type of exercise, which does matter to an extent. A leisurely 10,000 steps achieved while running errands doesn’t hold the same benefits of sweaty, out-of-breath movement that increases heart rate.
Finding Balance and Health in the Step Tracking Trend
Don’t throw out that step tracker just yet. The key is to begin with the understanding that health isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. It would be good for beginners to start by establishing their baseline by wearing a tracker without increasing activity levels.
Someone who is only getting in 2,500 steps a day definitely shouldn’t make the leap to 10,000 overnight. Instead, an incremental increase over time could feel more attainable and reduce the risk of injury.
Also, setting incremental increases as goals can help to keep motivation up as it starts to wane.
Additionally, trackers offer a number of other functions. Many also keep tabs on how much time the wearer spends at a heart rate that qualifies as aerobic exercise. This can help with setting a different kind of goal — 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, as recommended by the American Heart Association.
As with any lifestyle change, it's a good idea to chat with a doctor before adopting a new fitness goal. For individuals who have a chronic disease or have been especially inactive for an extended time, a doctor can provide guidance on safely increasing activity levels over time.
With balance and education, a step tracker can be used as a tool for a healthier lifestyle. As additional motivation, users might even consider looking to make a new friend with similar goals and celebrating together when they reach new health milestones.
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