Step counting

Introduction

I have been systematically counting how many steps I walk each day for six full years. I quickly established the habit of putting on my pedometer each morning and recording the total each night. I do keep a spreadsheet, much to the amusement of family and friends. But contrary to their jests, there are no multi-coloured graphs, just monthly and annual totals and averages. Once it was set up, it is of course simple to reuse for further years, including of course a minor amendment for leap year.

Data

So what does the spreadsheet show? Firstly, that the annual average varies, but that I haven't yet managed to sustain the recommended 10,000 steps a day consistently. Indeed the last four years show a steady decline which is disappointing. The figures are:

2009: 9,369
2010: 8,536
2011: 9,435
2012: 8,748
2013: 8,703
2014: 8,428

The second thing which has become apparent is a pattern of monthly or seasonal variation: the averages for March to September are consistently higher (over 9,000) than those for October to February (some only just over 7,000). This is perhaps not surprising: the average is lowest when the days are shorter and the weather is worse. Makes sense! If you really want to achieve the 10,000 target then you have to work hard in the summer.

What else have I learned?

I have obviously gone out walking for years and I found it easy to do all the obvious things to boost my step-count: park as far away from the station as I conveniently can, walk up and down stairs and escalators, and get off the tube a stop or two early (buses don't really figure for me, but the same logic would apply).

And I will now normally walk down to the local post office or chemist whenever I need something, rather than waiting for a package of errands to build up, or go by car. Basically, trying to keep your step count high pushes you into inefficient behaviour - the exact opposite of everything I stood for when I was a management consultant!

I used to work mainly at home and am now retired, and my default step count is quite low, typically about 2,000 steps a day, if I don't go out. Understanding your default level is an important part of increasing your step-count. So for me the very obvious message is that if I have got to go out somewhere pretty much everyday - or do something fairly heroic when I do. On the other hand, when I do go out for meetings or trips to London, it is often quite easy to accomplish the magic 10,000 without doing doing anything too dramatic.

My big idea for 2015 is to take seriously the guideline that you should walk 2 miles a day. (The source for this according to NetDoctor is Dr William Bird, a GP and strategic health advisor to Natural England). Simply doing this as often as possible has made a massive difference to my monthly totals for January and March and if I can keep it up, the elusive 10,000 daily average now feels achievable.

As a rule of thumb 2000 steps equates to a mile, so genuinely extra 2 mile walks add a massive 4,000 steps to the day's total.  This metric is less reliable when you are walking on hills when your stride is normally shorter and you take more steps to cover any given distance. I keep meaning to try to work out some sort of ratio.

Conclusions

The principal argument for step-counting is that it changes your behaviour and gives you an increased chance of achieving the elusive goal of 10,000 a day and the benefits that flow from it. If you already have a very active life, the pay-off will be less than if your default level of steps is low.

I think I am a bit fitter now and I am certainly better able to walk longer distances than when I started.

No comments: