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10,000 Steps: Do Fitness Trackers Really Work?

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Posted Aug 14th, 2017 in Articles, General

10,000 Steps: Do Fitness Trackers Really Work?

“Fitbit” developers have said that the purpose of their product is to help you “achieve your health and fitness goals, whatever they may be”. The Medical Station explores the truth surrounding Fitness Trackers to help you understand how to use them most effectively for your health.


Does it really work?

There has been a lot of talk recently that the popular fitness trackers “Fitbits” are not quite as accurate as we had originally thought. Researchers have shown that while the steps recorded are fairly accurate, the distance traveled is not as precise. While it has been demonstrated that fitness trackers can change behaviors of adults so that they exercise more often, there is no concrete data that shows that these trackers have actually worked to significantly help people achieve their fitness goals. That means that it is really up to you to decide whether these devices will work for you in your daily life.

Walking vs. Other exercise

While more recent developments within fitness trackers can track your sleep and heart rate, the basis of most of these devices is to count your steps. Walking in your everyday life provides lots of fitness benefits. In fact, since walking is low-intensity, it can be more effective in burning fat than more strenuous cardio like running. However, running burns 2.5 times more calories than walking and therefore one would have to walk for a much longer time to see the same results as running or other cardio activities. Walking has also shown to be just as effective as running in decreasing your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 Diabetes.  In addition, walking does not put as much pressure on your knees and ankles as running does and therefore poses a much lower risk of injury. Nevertheless, one of the most important aspect of cardiovascular exercise requires your heart rate to become elevated. If you do not feel like your heart rate rises or that you feel tired after walking, it may be time to increase your number of steps, the pace of your walking or move to a more strenuous kind of exercise such as running. 

If your fitness goals include toning or building muscle, walking will likely not be enough. Walking does work a lot of muscles in your legs, but usually there is not enough weight to actually cause the muscles to grow. While walking has shown to be a good complement to strength training, by itself it won’t do very much.  

Are 10,000 steps enough?

Lots of Fitness Trackers, including the “Fitbit” use a daily default goal of 10,000 steps a day. But what is the science behind this number? “Fitbit” claims that the reason behind this number is that it corresponds to approximately 5 miles a day, which follows the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control. However, simply following this goal might not be the best thing to do. For very sedentary people, 10,000 steps may be an unachievable goal while for many 10,000 steps may be cutting down on their daily exercise. In fact, a more useful and realistic goal is to simply gradually increase your personal daily activity. The real goal should be to become more active and only you can know what that really means for your body and your health.

How to get the most out of your Fitness Tracker

While Fitness Trackers can be very useful devices, they can’t magically make you skinny or fit. While they can be a good tool, it is really up to you to use them to help achieve your goals. Here are some tips to use alongside your fitness tracker to really reach your goals:

  • Set small goals for yourself when it comes to fitness by slowly increasing the number of steps you want to walk each day.
  • If your fitness tracker has a heart monitor, check it while exercising to make sure your heart rate becomes elevated.
  • Nutrition is an essential thing to consider when thinking about fitness so don’t forget about it!
  • Use their special features (such as competing with your friends) to push yourself to be the best you can be.

While Fitness trackers such as “Fitbits” can be very useful in motivating yourself to exercise and live a healthy lifestyle, it is up to you whether you use them correctly or leave them to collect dust next to the fitness DVDs you said you’d use. The Medical Station wants you to get the most from fitness trackers and encourages you to meet with one of our Allied Health Specialists so you can learn more about a healthy lifestyle to complement your Fitness Tracker.

This article was written by Hailey Adler, one of our Summer Administrative Interns. Hailey received a BSc. from the University of Guelph and is attending Queen’s University for a Masters of Anatomical Sciences. She is passionate about all things medical related as well as nutrition and cancer research.

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