When it comes to measuring your walking, you may be wondering what metric to choose. You could measure your walking in terms of how many miles you cover in a walk, how many minutes you spend walking or even how many steps you take throughout the day.
Unfortunately, there isn’t one measurement or ‘golden number’ to hit in any of these methods that guarantees weight loss. But for the most efficient weight loss, keeping track of your activity is important. So, when it comes to which metric to track, the answer is simple: Whichever one you’re willing and able to track.
Each metric has pros and cons, but if you pick one method of measurement and focus on it, you’re more likely to meet your goals. If you skip between the metrics, measuring steps one day and minutes the next, keeping track of progress may be difficult.
A recent study compared body composition to total steps taken daily and found those who took more steps had better body composition, so if weight loss is your goal, steps are a great place to start. Steps can be gathered throughout the day, so counting steps is a great way to ensure that, throughout the day, you’re getting in more movement, rather than sitting at a desk all day, then trying to cram in your one walk. Your smartphone automatically tracks steps for you, making them the easiest metric to keep track of with very little effort on your part. Don’t focus on 10,000 steps — that number was an arbitrary marketing ploy invented by pedometer peddlers — but rather, check your current average steps-per-day, and try to increase that number by a certain number each week.
We know dietary tracking — using an app like MyFitnessPal to track your food each day — is an important tool when it comes to weight loss. But the jury is out on fitness tracking as a way to drop weight. However, we know tracking your mileage can help motivate you to boost your actual fitness. By tracking miles, you’ll be able to see real progress, not just in how far you’ve walked but also in how fast you’ve done your miles. Your pace — how many minutes it takes to walk a mile — will likely speed up as you gain fitness, and if your eventual goal is to start running, tracking walking mileage and seeing your pace is a great way to start the process. It also is arguably the most athlete-oriented metric of the three, and tracking it might help you feel more serious about your training. If you set a goal of walking 3 miles every day, you’ll likely start to speed up as much as possible to get it done, making your walk much more efficient.
Keep in mind you’ll likely only measure your actual walking workout versus monitoring your all-day activity, unlike steps. If you work a particularly sedentary job and spend all day at a desk, measuring miles might not prompt you to take regular walking breaks throughout the day.
Most studies and recommendations for weight loss aren’t mileage or step-based, they’re done by the minutes of exercise. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting in 150 minutes of moderate exercise, like brisk walking, every week. Want to lose weight? Mileage doesn’t matter as much as whether or not you’re on the move for at least 60 minutes a day. Minutes also let you vary your terrain — doing things like walking uphill that may take longer despite not adding any distance — so you may be less inclined to stick to the easy route.
However, measuring minutes doesn’t take distance into account, so you may accidentally overestimate how much you’re moving. Picture this: You’re out on a walk around the neighborhood, and during that walk, you stop to get the mail, then to chat with a neighbor, then to grab something out of your car — it’s easy to see how minutes standing still quickly add up to make you think you’ve walked for an hour when you were only moving for 40 minutes.
Minutes also don’t force you to push the pace: In fact, they do the opposite. Unlike miles, where you’re trying to walk fast to complete them, minutes make it easy to slow the pace down to avoid doing more work than necessary.
You may want to experiment with tracking steps for a week, then minutes, then miles, and comparing how you felt between the three. Which form of tracking feels the most fun for you? Which feels like an exciting challenge? Choose the one that makes you feel like the best version of yourself, and stick with that.
Check out “Workout Routines” in the MyFitnessPal app to discover and log workouts or build your own with exercises that fit your goals.