While counting your daily steps is key to staying motivated and active, a narrow focus on your step number can actually sabotage your daily walking routine. Your step number is a means to an end – it helps you quantify the health benefits you’re earning and the calories you’re burning. Be aware that your step count doesn’t always fully capture all of your exercise. Walking should also be fun, so don’t let stress over your step count take away from the fun of walking for fitness.
We’ll cover when your step number doesn’t fully capture your activity, plus signs that you’re focusing too much (or too little) on your specific step count.
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Your daily step number is a means to an end
Counting your steps is one of the most important steps to walking more and getting healthier. Having the ability to check your step count is motivation in itself to walk more and burn more calories. That being said, you’re walking for more than just a number.
Health first, number second
While the satisfaction of hitting your step goal or completing a step challenge is amazing, most people walk first and foremost for health and fitness. It’s easy to forget that, however, and focus far too much on your specific number. Just because you haven’t hit 10,000 steps or you’re not a top walker in your group does not mean that you’re not getting health benefits from walking.
Focusing on the health benefits of walking can be far more motivational than thinking about a number. The way you feel from getting active is internal motivation to walk – motivation that comes from within yourself. Even if you’re busy for the day and can’t hit your step goal, this kind of internal motivation can lead you to get out and walk. If you miss a day and fall behind in a competition, you’ll still be motivated to walk for other reasons. Remember, the number is just a way to illustrate how active you’re getting.
Step numbers can be misleading
While step numbers are a great measure of activity for most people, there are some circumstances when your step count doesn’t fully capture your activity. If you frequently engage in other kinds of exercise, like team sports, weight lifting, or yoga, even the best step counter won’t fully account for the calories you’re burning. Even light activity burns calories and improves your health, but light activity like doing dishes or cleaning the house isn’t easy to capture through steps.
Other people simply can’t take their phone with them during certain times of day, and therefore miss steps. While missing steps can be frustrating, in the long run your missed steps will even out. You can still try to increase your tracked steps, which will almost certainly boost your true step count and get you healthier. The most important thing is getting moving and healthy, not the specific step count that you track. For many those things are the same, but not for everyone.
When are you too focused on your step count?
Tracking your steps is often a first step to getting healthier, but how do you know if you’re focusing too much on your number? A key sign is that thinking about your step number makes you feel unhappy.
You’re feeling stressed about hitting your numbers
Your step number can be a powerful motivational tool, but you shouldn’t feel stressed or extremely worried about hitting your step number. If you dread checking your steps, or if you feel that the pressure to get more and more steps is impacting your life and happiness, it’s probably time to step back from chasing step numbers.
Try taking a week where you walk when you want and don’t worry about whether you hit your step goal or not. Let walking reduce your stress, rather than adding to it. This time to decompress can help you break past a step plateau and boost your step counts to even higher levels.
It’s also possible that your step goal simply isn’t realistic for your time constraints, fitness level, or injury history. It does you no good to set a 10,000 step goal if you can’t consistently hit it, and chasing the goal makes you miserable. Instead, drop your goal to your current average step level and gradually increase it over time. Those small wins of hitting your steps will build momentum to keep up your progress. It will also be easier to make small changes in your life that can add a few steps here and there over time. You’ll have more success that way than making a drastic leap in your step count.
You’re too focused on the day-to-day
No matter how important walking is to you, life will eventually get in the way. There will be days where it’s simply not possible to hit your step goal. Maybe you’re feeling ill, you tweaked your ankle, or you’re so busy that you just don’t have time to take your daily walk. If you’re a serious walker, this WILL happen to you from time to time. Other days will simply work out such that you get a huge step count.
Your step count on any particular day is less important than your average step count over time. You shouldn’t be swinging wildly from huge step counts to barely any steps at all, but it’s totally ok to miss your step goals sometimes and beat your step goals other times. If you missed your step goal today, just make sure to get out and walk tomorrow. As frustrating as it can be to miss a day in a step challenge, you’ll be more likely to stick with walking for the long term if you don’t sweat the day-to-day and focus on the big picture.
Walking doesn’t feel fun any more
Walking should be fun in addition to getting you healthy! If walking feels like a chore or something you’re forced to do, you’re probably too focused on your step count and walking time. Try mixing up your walking routine and adding something new, fun and interesting to your route. Hiking in nature is a great start, but you can also try walking at different times of day or simply changing your daily walking route. If you’re a fast walker, walk slow and if you’re a leisurely walker, try walking faster. Don’t worry about your step count, but focus on doing something new and different!
You may discover a fun new way to walk that you decide to continue over time. Or, you may simply enjoy the change of pace and get back to your regular walking routine. Rediscovering the joy of walking every so often will help you stick with your walking exercise routine over the long run. In the end, that’s the real way to boost your step count – consistent walking over time.
When do you need to pay more attention to your number?
While many people are too focused on their step numbers, there are others who could benefit from paying more attention to how much they’re actually walking over time.
Your steps are inconsistent day to day and week to week
Consistent walking over time is usually better than sedentary days mixed with huge jumps in your step count. Sudden walking spikes can put you at risk of soreness and injury, and long periods of sitting or lounging around are bad for your health – even if you also exercise. For most of us, it’s really tough to know exactly how much we’re walking unless we actually track that data and check it periodically. It’s easy to trick yourself into thinking that you were active enough, or that you went for a “long” walk. Checking your step count periodically allows you to find out just how active you’ve been, and when you’re slipping in your activity goals.
While it’s great to look back at the end of the day, it’s usually better to check your steps in real time so you can make adjustments while necessary. Pacer’s home screen actually has a step timing chart to show you when you were active, but we often don’t always remember where we were walking or how active we were. By checking in during the day, we can add extra walks or extend walks for a few more minutes. If you are having a great step day, note how you’re feeling and how you motivated yourself to walk so you can draw on that in the future when needed.
You’ve hit a weight loss plateau
If you’ve noticed that your weight loss progress has stalled, it’s possible that your activity level has stalled as well (or that you’ve got less active than before). The only way to know for sure is to actually track your steps and find out how active you’ve been. Even if you’re walking more than ever, tracking your steps and estimating your calorie burn will give you a more realistic assessment of how fast you can expect to lose weight.
Intense walking, especially in hot weather, often makes you feel like you’re burning more calories than you actually are. This leads many people to eat back as many (or more) calories than they’ve burned as a reward. Others get discouraged when weight loss seems slow. Simply knowing your calorie burn can often help you eat better. If you know that it took you an hour of hard walking to burn 300 calories, do you really need to get that ice cream for dessert and eat back all of those calories? Without having a calorie count, you wouldn’t have a frame of reference to go off.
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