Why step tracking is absolutely critical to maximize benefits of walking

To get the most out of a fitness walking routine, it’s critical that you track your steps and review your progress over time. Without an accurate picture of how much you’re walking, you can’t set useful goals or know when it’s time to boost your activity level. While walking is great for your health no matter how you do it, for the maximum benefits of a walking routine you should review your progress periodically to gain insights on what’s working and what isn’t. You’ll be more motivated to walk, and you’ll be able to break past plateaus by identifying what’s going wrong and how to fix it.

We’re covering 3 key reasons why you need to be tracking your steps, plus what to do if there are times when you’re just not able to get a step count on your phone.

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Track steps for information

Couple checking step counts during a fitness walk
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Tracking your steps gives you the information you need to understand your activity level and increase it if you’d like to. Are you already getting 10,000 steps, or are your steps actually below average? Without a baseline awareness of your step count, you’ll have no idea how you’re doing both on any given day or long term. Even if you go on walks or runs for fitness, you’ll have far more opportunities walking in your daily life and those steps are crucially important to getting healthier.

Your long term trends and data are actually even more important than any one day’s steps, because any one day can be skewed high or low. That long term average is the number that you want to work towards improving, and the best way of doing that is increasing steps over time.

If you don’t track your steps and check your records (daily and long-term) periodically, it’s hard to tell if you’re actually improving. Adding 100 or 500 more steps to your daily total will make a big difference over time, but it’s also small enough in terms of time that you may not even realize you improved. Likewise, if you start slipping up and missing steps it’s easy to convince yourself that you’re doing fine. It’s only when you check your steps after 7 or 30 days that you’ll see the difference.

Track steps for motivation

Man checking phone on walk with city in background
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Reaching a new daily step goal or beating your existing one is one of the best motivators to keep walking every day. The fact that you view your progress towards your goal helps keep you on track and build momentum towards future success. You can share your steps with friends or loved ones, or simply use your steps as personal motivation.

If you’re comfortably beating your step goal, tracking your steps highlights your successes and can motivate you to increase the goal or to keep up your current routine. When you’re lagging behind, seeing your actual steps can spur you to take a walk or pick up the pace to get more steps.

For many, sharing or posting your steps or goals can be a great motivator. Friendly support and positive feedback makes you want to keep walking. You’ll get more positive feedback posting on an app like Pacer or a walking-friendly forum, as serious walkers know the effort hitting a new step goal can take.

Track steps for troubleshooting

Athletic senior man checking phone during exercise
Jacob Lund / Shutterstock

When you run into a plateau, or you feel you’re not getting active enough, tracking your steps over time allows you to make adjustments. The way to break through a walking weight-loss plateau or hit a new step goal is to look at your step counts and make some changes in your routine to change things up. You’ll need your step count and trends over time to make these adjustments.

You’re better off looking at long-term trends rather than your day to day numbers, as your steps will naturally fluctuate based on factors out of your control. A few days of smaller step counts is not a reason to panic, but weeks of decreased steps likely means that something has changed for the worse. With enough data, you can look for trends like steps being higher on weekends or weekdays, or even times of day where you’re more or less active.

It also may be the case that your step goals are too high for the time being. Not everyone has the time or stamina to walk an hour a day, for instance. If your trends are moving in the right direction, you might want to keep your stretch goal and gradually work that way. When you’re far off, however, you’re usually better off setting a lower goal to hit first. Setting a goal you can’t hit is likely to hurt your walking motivation, so use your data to inform the best step goal for you.

What if you can’t track all of your steps?

Factory worker in work clothes checking computer
Standret / Shutterstock

There will always be times where you don’t record 100% of your steps, and that’s ok! This could be due to you forgetting to carry your phone from time to time, or because you’re in an environment where you’re not allowed to carry your phone (some workplaces, certain sports etc). If that’s the case, you should still track your steps in one of two ways:

Estimate your non-tracked steps

You can always try to estimate your missed steps, using a steps to distance or steps to time measurement. This method is always going to be less accurate than tracked steps, and it’s vulnerable to bad estimates. Most people want to think that they’re getting more active, which means they’re likely to estimate that they’ve walked many more steps than they actually have. If you’re estimating your steps, estimate conservatively so as not to over-count them. Try to keep your estimates consistent, so that you’re at least capturing the movement up or down in your step count.

Work on the steps you’re able to track

Take matters into your own hands and maximize the steps that you are able to track. The habits that you build will likely increase your steps throughout the entire day, even the times you can’t track. Your ultimate goal is to walk more, and the number of tracked steps is only the score that shows how much progress you’re making. Try to increase your tracked steps by whatever you can, whether it’s 500 steps or 2,000. You’ll be making an impact on your health that you’ll be able to feel in terms of better health.

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