Why everyone is using watches, apps to count steps

March 16, 2023

We had just finished off a one-hour line dancing class the other day when a friend excitedly pointed out that her watch had counted X thousand steps for the hour.

Golf buddies of ours also seem to have embraced this new trend — their watches not only count strokes, distances, calculate golf handicaps and so on, but now, count steps. So it’s Y thousand steps per round of golf.

Save with SPP, as a known technical luddite, decided to take a closer look at why everyone seems to be into this new trend.

According to the Health Prep blog, step counters “have become increasingly popular over the past decade,” and are “great tools for increasing your overall fitness level and encouraging healthy habits.” The counters are typically either built into your smart watch, or are devices you wear on your wrist or attach to your belt, but they all do the same thing — “they measure the movement of the individual’s body to calculate the number of steps they have taken,” the article explain.

Some of the smart watches also measure “heart rate, calories burned and sleep patterns,” the article notes, adding that the devices can lead one into more exercise and ideally, fitness and weight lost.

Okay, so it counts your steps — how many should you be shooting for?

An article on the Mayo Clinic website says the average American walks 3,000 to 4,000 steps a day, but that a popular step counter target is 10,000 a day.

But, the article advises, rather than shooting for that target right out of the box, you should first get a handle on what your average “step day” looks like. “It’s a good idea to find out how many steps a day you walk now, as your own baseline. Then you can work up toward the goal of 10,000 steps by aiming to add 1,000 extra steps a day every two weeks,” the article notes.

This makes great sense. How can you “improve” your walking if you don’t know how much you were doing before you got the watch?

The article says that increased walking has many health benefits, including reducing the risk for heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and depression.

An article on the Live Science blog explores the benefits a little further. It’s good for the average person because the step counting data received is “intuitive and understandable to the layperson… easy to measure, objective, motivational and help(s) to facilitate behaviour change.”

U.S. guidelines suggest that 150 to 300 minutes a week of “moderate intensity exercise,” like walking, is the recommended level for adults. If the activity is “vigorous intensity,” (perhaps running, say) the recommended adult level is 75 to 150 minute a week, the article says.

An article on the Inverse blog expands on the idea of knowing what your baseline daily step count is before shooting for the magic 10,000 figure.

The article contends that 10,000 steps is not a scientific target, but the result of a marketing campaign for an early Japanese step counter.

“The gadget was named Manpo-kei because, in Japanese, it translates to “10,000 steps meter,” the article notes. “But the idea of 10,000 steps as an `ideal’ wasn’t exactly based in science. Rather, the Japanese character for “10,000” resembles a person walking — so it’s commonly thought, though hard to prove definitively, that the seeming similarity is the humble origin story of a now much-vaunted fitness target,” the article adds.

The article reiterates what we’ve seen elsewhere, that the typical person only walks 2,700 to 4,400 steps a day, so rather than trying to double or triple their typical day’s walking, they should increase it incrementally.

Save with SPP walked for exercise while working in downtown Toronto. At our least fit level, we could walk perhaps four blocks in an hour. We gradually increased our distance (speed) and by the end of our time there could walk maybe 10 blocks in the same period of time. Start with what you can handle, and gradually increase your goal.

It’s a similar story with retirement saving. Start by putting away an amount you can afford — we started with $25 a month in the mid-1980s. As you earn more, ratchet it up, and by paying yourself first, you won’t even notice that you are putting away hundreds, and eventually thousands, away. A great destination for those hard-earned savings is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. Check them out today!

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Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

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