Over the course of the last few years I have noticed a growing number of patients in our clinic who wear a pedometer (an instrument for estimating the distance traveled on foot by recording the number of steps taken) and other wearable technology. Some of these devices are wrapped around a wrist, some are hanging like a pendant from a chain around the neck, others are carried in watches with GPS technology, and there is even one from NIKE that can be slipped into the sole of a shoe under the insert to relay information to your phone.
The Benefits of Wearable Tech
A traditional pedometer simply measures steps taken, but most of the newer wearable technology can also provide other helpful information about effort or intensity of activity performed during the day. Steps are important, but 2000 steps on a treadmill do not constitute the same level of effort to the cardiovascular system, nor do they burn the same number of calories.
Given that I am in the health industry, and am receiving increasing number of questions from my patients regarding these technologies, I decided to invest in one and chronicle my observations.
- The illusion is broken – Over the years I kept telling myself that as a Performance Physical Therapist, working with a lot of athletes, my job was active enough to counteract the slow decline in dedicated workout time outside of long clinic hours. Imagine my shock (and some embarrassment) when I consistently found that my “active job” only registers 2,000-4,000 steps per 10 hour work day.
- 10,000 steps is a much further distance traveled than I have ever given it credit for.
- I have found that fatigue after work significantly impacts my motivation to continue to be active, despite typically not yet having reached my 10,000 step goal. I used to be able to go to the gym after work and, by doing so, achieve those 10,000 steps; however, I find myself often rationalizing why being tired, or the plans I have for the rest of the day will make it too difficult to stay committed to higher activity levels. Even the old standby of “I will do twice as much later” or “I will go for a walk after unwinding from my day” only serves to aid in my rationalizations, while not helping me to actually achieve my step goal.
- I get no bonus steps for being a parent. Being a parent to a 6 and 4 year old can be exhausting at times, but even though it often feels like I am constantly chasing my children, and I surely put in the equivalent of 5k, my Fitbit seems to be unimpressed, and often shows me no difference in stepping patterns compared to days I am at work all day.
- To consistently reach 10,000 steps per day requires serious commitment and forethought to ensure sufficient activity on a daily basis. From my own personal experiences, and from talking with others, here are some ideas to reach that daily goal:
- Park your car at the back of the lot to increase distance walked to and from your car at beginning and end of your day.
- Take the long way to the bathroom. In our office building there is a bathroom right down the hall, and there is another one on the opposite side of the building. Going the extra distance or choosing to use a bathroom on a different floor can help add steps and even a little intensity to the movement in your day
- Set a timer for every hour and commit to doing something active for 1 minute every hour. Over the course of an 8 hour work day that will amount to approximately an extra 800 steps
- Walking desk at work? Sitting has often been described in the healthcare community as the new standing. While walking treadmills are not cheap and many people may not feel like they can ask for this kind of an accommodation at work, consider this. The cost of treating a patient with low back pain and the increased cost in work comp premiums, is leading to companies being much more proactive about finding ways to prevent or reduce postural and repetitive movement injuries. Another factor not taken into account is that a healthy employee tends to be more productive than the version of themselves with back or neck pain. You never know unless you ask, right?
- Walk while you brush your teeth. This is not always practical, but every little bit counts!
- Competition is definitely a good source of motivation. Many wearable devices have the ability to share your activity information with other users. This allows for increased accountability and increased competitiveness. Many devices allow you to also set a goal, and having a finish line, can help by being a motivating factor as you draw nearer to the finish line.
The Fitbit is a good tool for accountability, but it is also your reward for the time put in. Don’t obsess over the numbers but rather use the numbers to determine if you are trending in the right direction.