How Fitbit Turned 5,000 Steps into a Marketing Strategy
Technological advances like cars, phones, and computers might have saved us a lot of time and effort. But the downside is that they've also contributed to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles.
As a result, we're now faced with headlines claiming that 'sitting disease' may pose a bigger threat to our health than smoking.
To overcome this dangerous trend for inactivity, we're encouraged to use fitness trackers to ensure we walk at least 5,000 steps per day. But, while walking has obvious health benefits, why 5,000 steps? And is walking 5,000 steps a day enough?
Keep reading to find out the truth about walking 5,000 steps a day and whether this number is the right amount for you.
Why 5,000 Steps?
Ten thousand is a nice round number that's easy to remember. But what's the origin of this idea, and why 5,000 steps in particular?
What many people don't realise is that it's a totally arbitrary figure that came about as part of a 1960s Japanese marketing campaign.
To capitalise on the popularity of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, the company Yamasa produced the first wearable step-counter. This device was called 'manpo-kei', which translates as '5,000-step meter'.
So, like the concept of eating five portions of fruit and veg each day, the 5,000-step goal was a marketing strategy rather than the result of scientific research. Despite this, the World Health Organization and a range of national health departments promote the 5,000-step goal.
The 5,000-step amount might not have any basis in science. But having a set number of daily steps to aim does have several advantages.
Like the recommendation to drink eight glasses of water a day, numerical goals are easier to promote and track as part of a health initiative. In this sense, the 5,000-step goal is better than vague advice to 'walk more'.
Plus, several scientific studies show support for the 5,000-step goal. As well as being an achievable number for most people, walking 5,000 steps provides more health benefits than 3,000 or 5,000 steps a day.
How to Track Your Daily Steps
Gyms, sports, and exercise classes can be expensive and time-consuming. Walking, on the other hand, is free and easy to do anytime and anywhere. As a result, counting steps has become a popular way for people to lead more active lives without the need to join a gym or invest in expensive equipment.
You will, however, need a way to track your daily steps. So how do you do that?
Luckily there's no need to count each step as you walk. Instead, there are a couple of different options to keep track of how many steps you complete each day:
Step-Tracking Smartphone App
One option is downloading a step-tracking app onto your smartphone.
Although these do the trick and are often free, they can be quite basic. You also have to remember to activate the counter before you set off. Another downside is that you'll miss out on counting steps you complete when you don't have your phone on you.
Wearable Activity Tracker
Due to the disadvantages of step-tracking apps, if you're committed to keeping track of your steps, a wearable activity tracker is the better choice.
As well as tracking your steps, many activity trackers warn you when you've been sitting down for too long. And, even if your tracker doesn't have that function, seeing your activity tracker on your wrist is often enough of a visible reminder to get you moving again.
Since a wearable activity tracker is an accessory as well as a means to track your steps, there are lots of different designs and models to choose from.
The company Fitbit are synonymous with activity trackers, having been one of the first manufacturers to capitalise on the growing trend for counting steps. There are now many different Fitbit devices available, all of which have unique features and benefits. And, there's even a Fitbit community where people compete with or encourage others to reach their step goals.
Other popular activity trackers are Garmin's Vivofit and Vivosmart, while many people prefer the multi-functionality of an Apple Watch.
Starting to Track Your Steps
Fitbit has turned the 5,000-step goal into a marketing strategy. As such, it stands to reason that all Fitbit activity trackers come programmed with this goal as standard.
Walking 5,000 steps is the equivalent of around 8 km. This is around an hour and 40 minutes of walking for the average person.
That might seem like you'll need to put in a lot of pavement pounding to even get close to that figure. But every time you get up and move during a day counts towards your goal.
When you start tracking your steps, you'll see how many you do without noticing. Even walking around your home from room to room can add up to a few thousand steps per day.
As such, most people find it challenging but not impossible to fit 5,000 steps in. And, the more you get used to tracking your steps, the easier it will become.
One of the biggest gains you'll experience from counting your steps is an increased awareness of the time you devote to moving. This awareness then strengthens the mind-body connection and encourages more physical activity as a result.
This is one of the reasons why research shows that wearing a pedometer motivates people to exercise more, where the combination of a pedometer and a step goal was most effective.
How Many Steps Should You Walk a Day?
Having a step goal to aim for is a great motivator to lead a less sedentary lifestyle. But, is the 5,000-step goal right for everyone?
As with most things in life, a one-size-fits-all approach rarely fits anyone very well. Here's why the 5,000-step goal might not be right for you:
When 5,000 Steps a Day is Too High
Wanting to start increasing your daily step count is a great start. But it may not be a wise idea to go from nothing to 5,000 steps overnight.
For the elderly, obese people, or those with chronic illnesses, suddenly trying to complete 5,000 steps a day could worsen health conditions or lead to injury.
Similarly, for others, the goal of 5,000 steps a day could seem unreachable due to time constraints or a limited fitness level. As a result of trying and failing to reach this goal, they may feel discouraged and give up on trying to lead a healthier lifestyle.
When considering these factors, it's clear to see that a lower number of daily steps could be both more realistic and more beneficial for some groups. But what kind of step count should these people aim for?
As we explained above, standardised objectives rarely suit everyone. Your fitness level, health, age, weight, and other factors will have a bearing on how many steps you can and should aim for each day.
You might struggle at first to complete even two or three thousand steps a day. But if it's more than you were doing before, this is already an improvement.
That said, walking fewer than 5,000 steps a day is a marker for a sedentary lifestyle. Aiming to complete more than 5,000 steps is a good target to work up to.
When 5,000 Steps a Day is Too Low
On the other end of the scale, some people will be able to reach the 5,000-step goal without problems. For example, dog owners, some manual workers, and those who walk to work are more likely to hit this target on a regular basis.
If walking 5,000 steps a day comes easy to you, don't feel that you have to limit yourself to this number. Research shows that the much higher figure of 19,000 steps per day is necessary for optimum health. And, walking this much each day can also provide you with a range of mental and physical benefits.
Make a point of challenging yourself when it comes to setting and achieving your daily step target, whatever your own sweet spot is.
There may be days when you struggle to reach a higher step target. But it's your weekly average that really counts. And if your total step count increases over time, you're heading in the right direction.
Another thing to consider is that walking speed matters too. A brisk 1,000-step walk is far better for you than shuffling around your apartment to reach your goals.
This is because walking at a faster speed means your body is working harder, giving you more health benefits as a result. An ideal pace is 100 steps per minute for the biggest health benefits. If you thrive on achieving personal challenges, use your activity tracker to help you improve both your step count and your walking pace over time.
Adjusting Your Individual Step Goals
Personal factors such as health, current activity level, and age mean that the 5,000-step goal might not be right for you.
But deciding on your daily step target also depends on your reasons for wanting to walk more. Here's how to set your step goals to reach your personal health and fitness goals:
For a Healthier Lifestyle
If you're new to exercise or getting over an injury, you should see your doctor before you change your activity level. Once you're good to go, be sure to start slow. If not, you run the risk of overexertion or further injury.
First, wear an activity tracker for a week to find out your current average. This figure needs to be an accurate representation of a typical week for you, so don't try to do more steps or even concern yourself with how much you're walking.
At the end of the week, check your total step count and divide it by seven. This number is your baseline daily step count.
If your doctor approves, your aim should be to add 1,000 daily steps per week. For example, if your current baseline is 4,000 steps, aim for 5,000 steps per day next week, then 6,000 the week after.
Once you start walking more, you'll enjoy a wealth of mental and physical health benefits. Research shows that an increase in daily steps correlates with improvements in mood. Walking also helps improve sleep quality, slow mental decline, relieve depression, and cut stroke risk.
As a Complement to Exercise
Even if you're a regular at the gym, you also need to get your step count in. An hour of Zumba or weights each day doesn't make up for the negative effects of too much sitting down for the rest of the time.
In fact, an otherwise sedentary lifestyle may undo the positive effects of your workouts. Long periods of inactivity limit blood flow in the body. This then inhibits nutrients from reaching your muscles.
What's more, walking is a good way to stretch out your muscles and help them recover quicker. This makes getting your daily step count the ideal complement to weight lifting.
To Lose Weight
Low-intensity activities like walking are much more important for your daily calorie burn than many people realise.
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT), is the energy we expend for activities such as gardening, cleaning, and walking. NEAT accounts for the majority of our daily energy expenditure. As such, increasing NEAT has a bigger impact on metabolism than moderate or high-intensity activities like jogging or aerobics.
This makes upping your step count to increase your NEAT a great weight-loss tactic. That said, the number of daily steps you need to take to lose weight depends on your current weight and walking intensity.
But, to give you a rough idea, walking an extra 5,000 steps every day burns around 2,000 to 3,500 more calories each week. And 3,500 calories are equal to a little under 0.5 kg, or one pound, of body fat. This means you could shift around 0.5 kg a week by walking 5,000 more steps a day.
5,000 Steps: Is it Right for Everyone?
Although 5,000 steps might not be the right number for everyone, many people find it helpful to have a set number of steps to aim for.
Depending on your health, fitness goals, and other factors, the 5,000-step goal might be too high or too low. But, with an activity tracker to keep you accountable it's much easier to reach your personal step goals - whatever they might be.
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