You may wonder what metric to use when you're measuring your walking and/or running. You can measure your progress by focusing on the number of miles covered in a single walk or run, the time you spend walking or running, or the total number of steps you take over the day.
When it comes to determining which metric to utilize, the answer is simple: Whatever you are willing and able to track.
Each method of measurement has pros and cons, but by choosing one and focusing on it, you’ll have a better chance of meeting your goals. Consistency is crucial; if you deviate between metrics, assessing steps one day and minutes the next, keeping track of progress becomes increasingly complicated. To decide which metric will be the most effective for you, consider your current goals. Each metric is outlined below with some things to consider in choosing the best one for you.
Steps - Focus on overall health
In a recent study, the relationship between body composition and total steps taken daily was compared and those who took more steps daily had a better body composition. In line with these results, if you're trying to lose weight, tracking your steps would be a good choice.
Research shows that spreading movement throughout the day to get steps in, rather than focusing on a single run or walk, has significant health benefits. If your activity level outside of the focused exercise session is low, your body has the potential to develop ‘exercise resistance’, where you will not have the efficiency of moving fat from your diet and burning (or oxidizing) it. This can cause your body to hold on to more fat.
Counting steps is a great way to ensure you are getting in more movement throughout the day than if you’re sitting at your desk all day and then rush out for your one walk or run. Your smartphone and many inexpensive trackers automatically count steps, which makes them the most straightforward metric to track without a lot of effort from you. Check how many steps per day you take and aim to boost that number by a certain number each week.
Performance - Focus on miles
Tracking your mileage can inspire you to enhance your fitness level. Keeping track of your miles allows you to see the real progress by combining the distance that you cover as well as how fast you have covered the distance. As you gain fitness, your pace will likely increase. Essentially, this is the metric most closely related to athletes and performance of the three.
Tracking mileage may inspire you to take training more seriously as you can target new personal best times for various distances or work toward covering increasing distances.
Keep in mind you will not be able to monitor your overall activity levels, unlike steps, as you're likely only to track your walking or running workout. If you are in a sedentary job and spend large parts of your days sitting down, counting miles might not motivate you to take frequent walking breaks.
Basic Health – Focus on minutes
Most weight loss studies and recommendations do not focus on mileage or steps, but rather on minutes of activity. A common recommendation for a healthy lifestyle is 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week, such as brisk walking. If you want to lose weight, moving at least 60 minutes a day is more important than the distance that you cover. Measuring in minutes also gives you more reasons to vary your terrain — for instance, walking uphill may take longer even if there is no added distance — so you will not be as tempted to stick with the easy route.
If you measure minutes, however, you may inadvertently overestimate the amount you have moved. Distractions during your walk and run, such as stopping to chat with a friend or at a red light or putting a letter in the post, can take time away from your activity. This time standing still adds up and detracts from the length of your session. You may be out for an hour but only actively moving for 45 minutes.
Measuring in minutes does not encourage you to push the pace. In contrast to miles, where you want to move at a good pace to complete them, measuring in minutes allows you to take your time which can reduce the intensity and effectiveness of your activity.
There is no single way to measure your movement. I find the most effective metric changes depending on my current target and focus. Try each of the metrics out for a week and see which you find most motivating. Stick with this method of measurement while you are finding it effective. If you are ready to step up your intensity or need some direction to reach your health-related goal, reach out to enlist the help of a coach or trainer.