Fitness trackers help you monitor everything from daily step count and distance walked, to heart rate and calories burned. While this makes it easy to gauge your progress, you might wonder if there are health benefits to having data not just for workouts but for every walk. According to recent research, the answer is yes — tracking walks can have a positive effect on your long-term health.
Tracking the exercise minutes of adults over the age of 45, researchers divided more than 1,000 participants into two groups. The first group was given a pedometer to track their walks, while the second group was told to go about their normal activity without tracking. The participants were all overweight or obese and typically exercised for around 90 minutes per week before the study began.
The initial observation period of the study was 12 weeks, but researchers also followed up with participants four years later to see if their exercise habits had changed and how their overall health compared. Not only were there fewer health-related events in the group who used the pedometer, but there were also other important differences related to sticking with a walking regimen. Participants who used a pedometer were more likely to continue their exercise habits over the four-year period; they increased their exercise time by 30 minutes and were 66% less likely to have a heart attack. Conversely, the non-pedometer group decreased its overall walk time over the four-year period and were more likely to experience heart attacks and bone fractures.
HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF FITNESS TRACKERS
While the results of the study point to an added benefit of using a fitness tracker to monitor your walks, here are some tips for maximizing the gains:
1. SET A SMART GOAL
Having specific, measurable goals can help you develop and maintain a consistent walking routine. Instead of just looking at the numbers your fitness tracker is providing, use these metrics to set goals. Here are a few ideas:
- Calories burned: See if you can burn 100 more calories this week than you did last week. After a few months, you might be surprised how much weight you’ve lost.
- Weekly steps: Try to beat your weekly total each week — you can even challenge a friend or family member to see who can take more steps and hold each other accountable.
- Long-walk distance: Each week, set aside one day when you’ll walk for at least one hour. Each week that follows, increase this distance by 10%.
- Total exercise time: Maybe you took a quick 5-minute walk during the work day to counteract the negative effects of sitting, or you went for a bike ride or a swim. Every type of movement counts, and fitness trackers allow you to measure them all. See how much total time you exercise per week and set a goal to increase it. Aiming for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week is a good goal to work toward.
2. HOLD YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE
Like a good training partner, a fitness tracker can help hold you accountable. How many times did you plan to walk this week? How far did you plan to go? The numbers won’t lie. If you have a habit of skipping walks, your weekly and monthly metrics show it.
Write your exercise plan for the week in a training log or on a calendar and check the metrics from your tracker at the end of the week to see if you’re consistently working toward your goals. If steps are a major part of your plan, most trackers let you set alerts to get up and move when you’ve been sedentary for long periods of time to more easily stay on track.
3. LOOK FOR PATTERNS
While you can track your steps and meals in an app like MyFitnessPal, you can also connect it to other fitness trackers to monitor other aspects of your life such as sleep and stress. Keep notes and search for patterns. For example, maybe you notice your walking workouts suffered when you didn’t sleep well the night before. You can adjust your training plan and make dietary and lifestyle adjustments to get the most out of your walks.
4. MAKE TIME FOR RECOVERY
Not every workout has to be hard and recovery is important. A fitness tracker helps you stay in a recovery heart rate zone on rest days so you can work smarter. You’ll avoid injury and push yourself harder on workout days.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Using a fitness tracker to monitor daily steps helps create positive long-term fitness habits and improve overall health. It also can extend longevity by lowering your risk for heart attacks and bone fractures. To get the most out of your data, set specific goals, regularly check in, and hold yourself accountable. If you’re not hitting the numbers you want, look for patterns and include recovery days.
Make progress every day while you work on fitness and nutrition goals, like walking more steps. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app for daily coaching and easy-to-follow tasks to keep you motivated.