Is Counting Steps A Waste of Time?

Everyday I see a new ‘wearable’ product being launched with the promise that it would motivate me to be more active, lose weight, improve health & prevent all the potential ill effects of inactivity. Yet as a father of two kids there is never enough time to be active and certainly not the two hours it takes to complete the daily recommended activity goal of 10,000 steps!

So what’s the solution ? In a seminal piece of work, Paul T. Williams from the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab analyzed over 30 different studies covering over 2 million person years of follow-up to conclusively demonstrate that being fit is much more beneficial (i.e. lower risk of heart disease) than being active. In fact even a moderate improvement in fitness is more beneficial than being the most active person on the planet!

Fitness here is specifically defined as ‘cardio-respiratory fitness’ i.e. the ability of your heart & lungs to supply oxygen to your muscles when engaged in sustained physical activity.

As a result, the American Heart Association in 2013 issued a policy statement stating that “Cardio-respiratory fitness is the most important correlate of overall health status … and perhaps the strongest predictor for CVD and total mortality”. So if you have time to focus on improving one thing, that should be your fitness level not your activity.

Not to suggest that counting steps (or calories) is not beneficial at all … but it doesn’t seem like a smart way to improve your health. Fitness on the other hand is best improved through short bursts of high intensity training … so you actually spend less time yet can be healthier!

Sources:

1. Paul T. Williams, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 May ; 33(5): 754–761
2. Donatello, Rebeka J. (2005). Health, The Basics. San Francisco: Pearson Education, Inc. (wikipedia.org)
3. Kaminsky et al A National Registry for Cardiorespiratory Fitness. Circulation. 2013;127:652-662