How many steps did you do in 2016? I did 8,170,127 – fitness tracking works!

I hate the idea of sounding like an advert, but wearing a fitness tracker has made a substantial change to my lifestyle. In Feb 2015 Mrs MSE gave me a Fitbit (though I’m sure the same’s true of all brands), and for someone like me, who’s a bit obsessive, it’s a very powerful motivating factor. I’m now averaging over 22,000 steps a day.

Last year I blogged on my first-year stats, now it’s time to bash out an update on the annual stat-fest, primarily to ensure I keep record (losing stats would be a sin) as well as to share experiences with other steppers.

While running’s been the core part of my fitness regime for at least five years, the motivation of measured steps has seen me more than double my run distance. Before 2015 I’d never run more than 700 km in a calendar year (I graph it, obvs, using a GPS watch to measure distance). In 2015, my first with a fitness tracker, I ran 1,055 km, last year 1,751 km and I’m targeting 2,000 km for 2017.

Yet the real difference is with my activity when not exercising.

My second-year fitness-tracker stats (first year in brackets)
Steps Kilometres (1)
Total Daily average Total Daily average
Annual 8,170,127 
Best calendar month 791,059 
(631,104, which would’ve been the 3rd worst month in 2016)
Best calendar week 200,202
(200,202; see note 2 for why these are the same)
Best day 46,106
(1) These aren’t necessarily the same “best” week or month as for steps. Bigger kilometre weeks tend to be those when I’ve run more. But you do fewer steps running a kilometre than walking so it doesn’t always equate. (2) 1st-year stats are from 22 Feb 2015, when I got the tracker, for 12 mths; 2nd-year steps are calendar year 2016, so there is some overlap.

I very rarely get any form of transport now – except the bus to take mini MSE to school, and I then walk from there – and a car for my early-morning Good Morning Britain slot. Walking across town and back more than once in a day for meetings is commonplace. So as not to lose productivity, I schedule in lots of phone meetings while I’m doing this, so the time is never wasted.

In fact as I last drove my poor little Smart car back in September, when I tried to start it the other day, it wouldn’t.

This has become a religion

Last year I wrote I was getting obsessed by hitting my 10,000-step target (for those who don’t use trackers, a step isn’t a ‘going upstairs’ step; it’s a step while walking, running and going upstairs) – yet now it’s a religion.

It has been 15 months now since I last failed to vibrate – nothing saucy – it’s just what the tracker does when you hit target. The only exception is the three days I couldn’t walk due to a type-two hamstring tear – and I was almost more upset about missing steps than the pain.

In fact, while I haven’t altered my official target, in my head I now aim to do 20,000 every day. Contrast that to my first week with the fitness tracker on, where I only made the 10,000-step target on four of the seven days, thinking then, that was much more activity than I had been doing.

All in, it’s had an impact on my health, too. I’m eight pounds lighter than when I started, and that weight has stayed off for over a year now – though some of that is due to giving up coffee (as I had lots of milk in it).

Are the steps accurate?

Not 100%, no. In fact you can watch Mrs MSE’s wearing four different trackers for a week to see how inaccurate they are. Yet that doesn’t matter. I compete with myself based on the same metrics – number of steps in a day.

Ultimately fitness trackers won’t work for everyone. I think to make use of them you have to become focused on them. That’s something I enjoy, but if you see it as a chore it just won’t work.

Though for someone like me, with an obsessional and competitive personality, especially if it involves stats, allowing that to fixate on something that makes you healthy is great.

And my fixation hasn’t only helped me – when friends who are linked via the app see my steps, they often up their own steppage. Only one has become regular competition, though: a friend of my sister’s (you know who you are). Each week we egg each other on (virtually) and both of us have upped steps since that competition started (so far she’s only ever won the most steps in a week battle against me twice, but she’s gaining!).

Which fitness tracker to get?

Please don’t read the fact that I have a Fitbit as a recommendation. I do like it, especially the Pavlovian effect of the buzz it makes when I hit 10,000 steps.

Though this is all about look, taste and preference; here are a few quick tips, then see the MSE cheap fitness-tracker guide for price info.

  • Those with a display that you can view without syncing with your phone do make it easy to obsess about steps.
  • If you want a more accurate calorie reading, go for one with a heart-rate monitor.
  • Take a look at the apps first (hopefully you’ll have friends using them) to see which you prefer.
  • Step measurement is less accurate if you wear the tracker on your wrist as opposed to clipped to you (eg, on a bra or belt). The problem with the wrist is it’s impacted by your arm’s movement. They do incorporate this in the algorithm but it is a factor.
  • Think about the look; you will be wearing this constantly.
  • These aren’t running watches – if you want one of those with accurate measure, get a GPS watch (or a fitness tracker which can sync to your phone’s GPS). These are about your everyday activity.
  • If you’re competitive, find out if your friends are using one; linking up with them is motivating.

Do you wear a tracker? If so, do you like it? How’s your steppage? Do let me know in the comments box below…