Why Not All Steps Are Equal: Getting The Most Out Of Your Walks.
This is an awareness and fine-tuning exercise.
Walking is great. We know that. And there is always something special about taking a slow walk that allows you to enjoy the day, the environment and clear your thoughts.
And then there are Active Minutes.
And at One Million Steps, we are constantly surprised the many people we meet don’t know what Active Minutes are; even if they own devices that have the ability to count them. The common conversation is:
Us: “ That’s a great start on the steps, you are definitely heading in the right direction. But you have almost no Active Minutes, you may want to try and get a minimum of 30 mins a day”
Them: “Yea, this Active Minutes thing. I think it’s broken. It seems to come on randomly.”
Us: “Well, … not really. This is how you ….”
Them: “WOW, Really?!”
But there is some science behind it too which is actually quite interesting. So we hope that once you have a read of this, you get to understand what health organisations mean when they refer to
- being idle
- light activities
- moderate activities
- vigorous activities
Why are Active Minutes so important?
The physical activity guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week.
These exercise minutes need to be accomplished in blocks of at least 10 minutes
AND THESE are your ACTIVE MINUTES: Moderate/vigorous-intensity exercise PLUS in blocks of AT LEAST 10 Minutes.
But what does it all mean?
It means doing an activity that raises your heart rate enough so you are breathing noticeably heavier than usual.
And these kinds of activities are measured by their Metabolic Equivalents for Task (MET)
What Are Metabolic Equivalents for Task (METS)?
This is an extremely simple explanation:
Metabolic Equivalent for Task (MET) is a unit that estimates the amount of energy (calories) used by the body during physical activity.
At rest or sitting idly, the average person expends 1 MET, which equals:
1 kilocalorie per kilogram of body weight times minutes of activity
3.5 milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight times minutes of activity. Source
The more exertion that is required to do an activity, the higher the MET expended.
If the activity requires TWICE the exertion of resting or sitting idly, then you burn TWICE the energy (calories) or 2 MET per minute.
The number of calories burned each minute depends on your body weight. A person who weighs more will burn more calories per minute.
To get into the science of MET, click here
For a list of hundreds of activities and the MET expended, have a look at 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities: A Second Update of Codes and MET Values
The easy way to look at how many MET are expended is:
- Under 3 MET: Light-intensity activities
- 3 to 6 MET: Moderate-intensity aerobic physical activities
- Over 6 MET: Vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activities
Here are some activities that fall into the light, moderate and vigorous categories
From the above chart, NOTICE THIS:
- walking 3.0 mph (4.8 km/h) > Moderate Intensity Activity > 3 MET
- jogging 5.6 mph (9.0 km/h) > Vigorous Intensity Activity > 8.8 MET
Now if you did either one of those for a minimum bout of 10 minutes, that block of activity would be counted as Active Minutes.
“But I’m all about the steps! What does it mean in steps?”
Yes, I hear you. It was something I had to figure out too.
For many devices, the calculation is usually at least 100 steps per minute for 10 minutes minimum.
Despite acknowledged interindividual variability, ≥100 steps/min is a consistent heuristic (e.g, evidence-based, rounded) value associated with absolutely defined moderate intensity (3 metabolic equivalents (METs)) … in adults it appears to be a consistent and reasonable heuristic answer to ’How fast is fast enough?’ during sustained and rhythmic ambulatory behaviour. https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/52/12/776
If you pick it up a little more to 130 steps per minute, you’ll hit the threshold for vigorous-intensity (at least 6 METs) https://www.runnersworld.com/news/a26972526/walking-speed-health-benefits/?fbclid=IwAR33duekq0ENx7ml-LeHT1VkeVUFJzMqRV-D4DBoD1keBT-mIvxeJpk_G9s
The device or app that you use, if it records active minutes, will look at:
- any 10-minute block of data
- that has an average of 100 steps per minute and
- any further mins with at least 100 steps per min
- until there is a one minute block of data that falls below that level
Then the calculation resets to 0 active minutes and a user has to build up 10 mins + any extra minutes for the active minutes to be registered.
IMPORTANT: This means if you do 9 active mins, you get 0. It HAS to be 10 minutes minimum.
Walk 100+ steps average per min for </or 9 mins = 0 active minutes recorded and calculations reset.
Walk 100+ steps average per min for 10+ mins = 10 active mins recorded + any minutes at 100 steps average after
Which is why we often hear frustration as walkers, using any device/app, say that cannot get active minutes.
It also means getting used to it. For example, if you come to a traffic light, or stop to talk to a friend you should keep jogging on the spot.
REMEMBER: These “steps” are usually wrist movements or the movement sensors on your phone so you have to make sure that you are walking with a good natural arm swing.
However, there are ways of making sure that you do get your steps registered.
- walk at 110–120 steps a minute and
- walk for 12 minutes at least (we recommend 15 minutes)
This is because you can never be sure how accurate your steps are and if your arm/wrist movements or phone sensors are always perfect. This gives a speed closer to the 3 miles per hour speed which is considered a 20 min mile, and brisk walking.
BUT, how do I figure out if I am walking at a brisk speed?
Good question! The suggestion is you should be walking at a pace that makes speaking just a little difficult. But it can be pretty hard to gauge
You could use a GPS tracker to calculate your current speed (minutes per mile) and do it till you get the hang of what 3 miles per hour “feels” like.
But I’m going to be honest and tell you how I built my brisk walking habit. To get used to a particular speed, in the early stages, I realised I could use the ticking of beats on a metronome!
Nope! I did not walk around with one! I googled it.
This YouTube series of a metronome goes from 40 beats a minute all the way to 208 beats per minute
Play it on your phone and use it to time your steps to the beats or even when you are jogging on the spot.
Using the metronome method, I realised I actually had a really fast walking speed. So I was ok, but once you get the hang of it, hopefully, you will understand your pace too.
REMEMBER: Listen to your body!
If you cannot reach 100 steps per minute for 10+ minutes, don’t stress it!
Just gently keep practising at your own pace and slowly build up your beats to 100 steps a min and more if you can.
Remember. Every day, just a little extra. Nothing excessive.
Take it step by step.
Runners World: How to Make Your Non-Running Steps Worth Your Time
Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults Garber CE, Blissmer B, Deschenes MR, et al.Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2011;43(7):1334–1359. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e318213fefb.
Keeping It Off Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/keepingitoff.html
To find out more about the Million Steps Challenge and how we can help you, your business or charity, please visit https://millionsteps.com
Or Register your organisation interest: Million Steps CoVid-19 Package here