How a Fitbit Counts Steps: A Better Way to Live

If you’re planning to buy a Fitbit, you may have noticed that the device counts your steps. It doesn’t matter if you’re walking or running; the steps are still counted. This can be great if you jog every day because your fitness tracker will let you know how many miles you’ve run each day, week, and month. But what if you don’t like to run? If you live an active lifestyle and walk every day, how will you be able to ensure that your Fitbit accurately registers your steps?

Why Should You Wear a Fitbit Device

Wearing a fitness tracker can be a great way to monitor your overall activity levels, see if you have trouble sleeping, track calorie consumption or use it as an alarm clock. In addition, recent research has shown that people tend to walk more when they know their step counts. If you’re concerned about weight loss and overall health, you might find that wearing one can motivate you when you don’t feel like exercising.

Ultimately, tracking your activity can lead to positive behavioral changes that result in better overall health and wellness. Remember not to get caught up in tracking steps for their own sake—always ensure that your goals are realistic and lead toward long-term health benefits.

How the Fitbit Counts Steps

The Fitbit relies on its pedometer, which measures your steps. A single step is defined as any time both feet leave and then return to contact with the floor. The pedometer estimates how many steps you’ve taken by sampling stride length and foot cadence.

For example, if you take three strides per second and have a stride length of 30 inches, you will have taken about 90 steps in two minutes (30 x 3 = 90). This isn’t always right on. People vary widely in their stride length.

To help improve accuracy, some people wear a pedometer clipped to one side of their waistband, so it only samples one leg’s movement. However, even when walking normally, most people don’t count every step they take; they know when they’ve walked far enough.

If you want to get an accurate reading from your Fitbit or other pedometers, try counting steps for five minutes at an average pace, then check your results against a known distance like 100 yards or 1/4 mile.

The Step Counting Accuracy of Fitbits

Researchers at Duke University published a study that said some of Fitbit’s products overestimated steps and other activities by 23 percent to 75 percent. The research also suggests that Fitbits and similar wearables are likely not being used as reliably or accurately as they could be.

It found that people who used their devices for over three weeks averaged about 8,600 steps per day, but it would have been only 7,981 steps daily if those devices were calibrated.

Your device defines a step. It could be actual footsteps or just arm movements, depending on how you wear it. So, while you may think you’re getting close to 10,000 steps per day, your tracker might say otherwise. This can make a huge difference in reaching goals like walking 10,000 steps each day (which many health experts recommend).

So what’s going on here? There are two main reasons why these devices aren’t accurate enough: First, we don’t know what counts as one step. What counts as one step varies based on context. For example, some people might count every time their heel hits the ground, while others may consider every time an entire foot hits the ground as one step.

The Solution: Intensity Minutes

To lose weight safely but quickly, you’ll need to keep track of your exercise intensity. Focusing on calories is a great way to ensure that you aren’t taking in more calories than you are burning.

 For these numbers to be accurate, they must reflect your intensity level. For instance, jogging on an incline will burn more calories per minute than jogging on flat ground. To lose weight safely and quickly, aim for exercising at a low-to-moderate intensity for 45 minutes each day and make sure most of your exercises are moderate or vigorous (including those from high-intensity interval training).

If you haven’t been active recently, start slowly and work up to higher activity levels over time. If you have health problems, ensure you talk with your doctor before starting any exercise program. You can use a heart rate monitor to help estimate how hard you are working during aerobic activities like walking, running, swimming, or biking.

A rule of thumb is that if your heart rate isn’t within 10 beats per minute of its maximum rate, your maximum being 220 minus your age, you’re not working hard enough to see significant results from aerobic activity alone.

The same goes for calculating intensity minutes; it’s likely not intense enough if you’re not getting 75 percent of your max heart rate during an activity.

How the Fitbit Counts Steps

Why Intensity Minutes Are So Important

A good measure of your progress as you exercise is intensity minutes. The intensity minute calculation measures your activity by looking at how hard you work when active. Every time your heart rate increases above 120 beats per minute, you earn an intensity minute.

If you go for a walk or run and consistently maintain a speed over 6 miles per hour, even during walking breaks, your heart rate rises above 120 beats per minute during that workout, and you earn an intensity minute.

Intensity minutes are important because they show that it doesn’t matter how fast or slow your heart beats as long as it’s consistently beating faster than 120 times per minute for more than one minute during an exercise session.

How Many Intensity Minutes Do I Need?

When you choose your activity for an intensity minute, be sure to push yourself enough to breathe harder and break into a sweat, but not so hard that you can’t hold a conversation. The Fitbit App recommends taking brisk walks or jogging at 4 mph, swimming laps at 3–4 miles per hour, or running stairs up 12 flights.

Adults should aim for 5-7 intensity minutes per day. If that doesn’t sound challenging enough, try picking up your pace for one minute of every 10 minutes spent on an activity—you’ll achieve more than 10 intensity minutes in just 30 minutes of walking.

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