Are You Cheating Your Health for 10,000 Steps?

For years, the pedometer has enjoyed widespread popularity amid health, fitness and wellness entities and enthusiasts due to its low cost, relative ease of use, straightforward feedback, and clear-cut message to users: “10,000 steps a day” for good health. Moreover, the advent of the pedometer has undoubtedly raised people’s awareness on the importance of walking for overall good health.

Interestingly enough, today’s wearable devices are far more advanced than the stand-alone pedometer, yet the 10,000 steps a day mantra has remained pretty consistent.

Related Article: How Consumer Wearables Can Change the Way People Behave

But, is hitting that coveted 10,000 steps a day mark really boosting people’s health and fitness levels or simply their own egos and inherent desires to ‘win’.

A friend of my family once boasted of the clever tactics he used to regularly clock in 10,000 steps a day as measured by his pedometer.

His incentive was simple — Money.

His employer provided him and other workers with a basic pedometer and incentivized $1 for every 10,000 steps they took in a day up to a maximum of $60 per month. I recall laughing out loud as he held the pedometer and rapidly swung his arm in real-time to gain a quick 100 ‘steps’. He even bragged about using the spinning power of his ceiling fan to support achievement of his daily goal.

Sadly, just three months after he shared these amusing stories of personal triumph, he died prematurely of a massive heart attack.

He was only 55 years old.

In the days that followed his death, I couldn’t help but recall our prior conversation and wonder if his death could have somehow been prevented if he’d had more of a vested interest in walking for good health as opposed to mere monetary gain.

To be honest, I’m not quite so sure. Indeed, a range of research studies have shown that some people are more concerned about manipulating their activity trackers to claim rewards or incentives and even to improve their self esteem with little regard for the betterment of their health.

Related Article: The Seven Principles of Exercise

To gain some personal insights, I recently carried out a little experiment of my own. As an avid user of the activity tracking components of my Apple Watch and one who also loves a good challenge, I set out to meet my “Move” goal every day for a full month. It’s not that I don’t adequately ‘move’ every day; it’s simply that the Apple Watch doesn’t factor in my rigorous strength training routine due to the limited locomotion involved.

In case you aren’t familiar with the Apple Watch, the Move goal is accessible on the “Activity” app of the device and basically refers to the number of ‘active’ calories burned daily based on your activity history. The Move goal doesn’t include your total daily calories, as the latter is based on a combination of your active calories and estimated metabolic rate (the rate at which you burn calories).

Related Article: Estimating Your Metabolic Rate and Daily Calorie Needs

To reach my daily Move goal and, ultimately, conquer the challenge, I in essence had to perform a lot of cardiovascular (cardio) exercises (running, cycling, and elliptical training), often to the detriment of my strength training workouts.

Given time constraints, I was constantly faced with the decision to lift or not to lift; oftentimes dismissing the latter in an effort to ‘move’ more. This is a huge flaw of all activity trackers, primarily when it comes to tracking daily activities among people like myself who regularly lift weights. Still, I took on the challenge just to see whether or not it would alter my activity patterns (and ego) for the better.

Related Article: 8 Reasons Why Women Should Weight Train

Did I move more?

Heck yes!

But, undergoing this self-inflicted physical challenge mentally took all the enjoyment out of physical activity. It also yielded noticeable muscle loss, which is a common result of excessive cardio exercise.

Although my personal challenge wasn’t necessarily a “10,000 steps a day challenge” per se, this type of challenge is one that many people face when shooting for a daily goal of 10,000 steps.

I can’t tell you how often I see the “10000steps” hashtag across the social media pages of folks who are totally oblivious to the fact that not all steps are equal. I’m sorry, but this is true. Walking 10,000 steps at a leisure pace on flat terrain does not physically equate to the same amount of steps taken during stair climbing or even during hill climbing activities like hiking, backpacking, and hill walking.