There are literally dozens of fitness-tracking wristbands, companion apps and stand-alone apps available today. Fitbit, Jawbone, Basis, Withings, Garman, Nike+, Polar, BodyMedia, LifeTrak, Sync, Lark Life, Shine... just to name a few. The rumor mill says that Apple will soon introduce iWatch with HealthBook and speculation is wild about what capabilities such a combination would possess. So, do you need a fitness-tracking methodology? And, if so, what will it do for you?
I've been using a variety of fitness-tracking wristbands for the past nine months or so and, combined with the MyFitnessPal calorie counting app, I've lost over 58 lbs. I did this by carefully monitoring my activity and even more carefully monitoring my caloric intake. You can learn exactly how by visiting The Smartphone Diet™.
But that's not the whole story. There's walking... and then, there's WALKING! The two are very different and yield very different results.
A Number, and Some Context
10,000 steps per day is a goal that you see promiscuously advertised. Almost every fitness-tracking wristband comes with an app that suggests that you set 10,000 steps per day as a minimum daily goal. The benefits include better health and wellness, weight loss, etc. 10,000 steps may be an excellent goal, but it is a number out of context.
For example: If you work in an office and you drive to work and you don't do many outside meetings, it is possible for you to walk less than 2,000 steps per day. And, a lazy Saturday watching college sports on the couch may include less than 900 steps (mostly to the bathroom and the refrigerator). Modifying your lifestyle from couch potato to 10,000 steps per day sounds like a good idea (and it is), but only if your caloric intake remains the same. If you add calories to compensate for the extra energy you are using to walk, nothing good will happen.
So, what does it mean to walk? What should you quantify? What goals should you set? And how does this work?
Learning How to Walk... Again
In order to get the most out of walking, you need to walk as fast as you can for as long as you can (within reason). In practice, this means setting aside time to walk every day. 30 minutes, 45 minutes, one-hour... you decide. You should walk every day and, you should treat it like a workout. When I started walking, I bought a pair of Nike Free 5.0+ running shoes. Nike has written voluminously about the benefits of this kind of shoe. Do some research and see if it will work for you. Regardless of what you ultimately decide to wear, make sure you have good, comfortable, safe footwear.
You will also need the proper clothing. Running clothes are not suitable for walking, so go to the hiking department of your favorite sporting goods store and get the appropriate layers of clothing you will need to walk in any kind of weather. You are going to sweat, so you are going to need to control your temperature. There is zero point in being uncomfortable when you are exercising. Spend the money and get what you need.
Because I am about as busy a person as you are ever going to meet, I decided that I could only set aside one-hour each day for my walk. You may have even less time, but when I started my journey, I was highly motivated, and one hour per day seemed reasonable.
Do What Works For You
As you know, everyone is different. People with longer legs can cover more distance and do so more quickly than people with shorter legs. How fast you walk is far less important than walking as fast as you can. Some people call it "purposeful walking." I don't care what you call it; get dressed, put on your walking shoes and get out the door for an hour.
Depending upon how fit you are, how old you are and how much extra weight you're carrying, you may cover up to 4+ miles in your hour. When I started, I could walk about 3 mph comfortably (on a flat surface), and I could push myself to 3.6 or 3.7 mph for short bursts. Today (approximately nine months into it), I can walk at 4.2 mph for an entire hour up and down hills with up to an 11 percent grade with no problem at all. It's a journey; there is no one to compete with but yourself, and your progress is 100 percent related to your personal dedication.
When you walk, you must, must, must, stand straight up, keep your head up, breathe, stay relaxed (especially your shoulders) and (when possible) contract your abdominal muscles. Posture, breathing, relaxation and proper core tension will yield remarkable results.
In my case, my entire body shape changed. I lost almost 8 inches in waist size, two shirt sizes, went from a size 48 suit to a size 42 and, not surprisingly, attained a level of aerobic capacity that I did not believe possible. Just from walking.
Now, walking 4-miles in one-hour takes me about 7,300 steps. That's 73% of the published 10,000 step daily goal. Do I really need the additional 2,700 steps? And, more importantly, do I really need to measure them?
Quantifying your steps sounds like a good idea. And, if you are using your step count as part of a quantified self protocol it may be an awesome idea.
That said, instead of a fitness-tracking wristband, you can use your time-tracking wristwatch and go for a purposeful one-hour walk every day.
The benefits for the first three months of your new, active lifestyle will be amazing and, when you're ready, you'll have a much better idea of the things you want to quantify. For example: I'm now interested in hitting my target heart rate and keeping it in a specific zone for specific periods of time. This is not a feature every fitness-tracking wristband offers. I also want to know my pace and split times. This information was not important to me when I started walking, but is now essential to maximizing the effectiveness of my daily walks.
Your quantified journey will be highly personal and adapted to you. Before you start worrying about how to quantify your steps, start taking them – that commitment doesn't require fitness-tracking wristbands or any other modern technology. It can be quantified with a sundial.