Martin Lewis: In 2023 I averaged 25,142 steps a day (burning 3,917 calories), here's how… though I need to confess a steptacular fail

In some ways 2023 was my Steppus Horriblis! Yes, I did my third-best ever year, a total of 9,178,663 steps, smashing my 2022 steps by over 190,000 (in context, that's an average 22.9 daily kilometres, over 8,350km for the year). However, as someone with a well-documented fixation with the 'quantified self', it pains me to tell you…

… about 2 August 2023, a date so scarred into my memory I don't even need to look up. On that fate-less summer day I had food poisoning. I languished in bed most of the day, my only steps being bedroom to bathroom. Then at 10pm, I said to Mrs MSE we had to go for a walk, I had a target to achieve, a (healthy) obsession that needed feeding.

I got to the front door, but my legs were floppy, and I was panting just from the exertion of coming downstairs. I flumped on the floor, unable to take… another… step. The walk was off! I had managed, deep breath, just 2,245 steps that day. The first (and only) time since 30 October 2016 that I've missed my minimum 10,000 steps a day target. I was genuinely gutted.

Yes, for 2,467 days, just under seven years, through sickness, operations, long-haul flights (getting up early to ensure I got the steps in) and even a pandemic lockdown, I'd always made it. Now I'm resigned to the fact that if I want to meet my ambition of 10 years without missing that (completely arbitrary target), I'll be in my 60s before I can do it.

So after that steptacular fail, on with the rest of the year. Welcome to my eighth annual steps blog, written as a permanent record for me, and because I know many people who've read past versions have taken up and enjoyed their own step challenges.

How my 2023 steps compare

I got my first fitness tracker in 2015, and it had an instant impact on me. As I blogged my 201520162017, 2018201920202021 and 2022 steps, I can easily chart my progression. I've not included the calorie count as I think it's very loose, but this year it says I apparently averaged 3,917 calories burnt a day in 2023.

Fitness tracker stats comparison

  Steps Kilometres (1)
  Total Daily average Total Daily average

2023: 9,178,663

2022: 8,989,908

2021: 9,284,614

2020: 8,889,800

2019: 8,877,851
2018: 8,582,412
2017: 9,278,393
2016: 8,170,127 
2015: 6,351,324

2023: 25,142

2022: 24,630

2021: 25,437
2020: 24,300

2019: 24,322

2018: 23,512

2017: 25,420
2016: 22,383
2015: 17,400

2023: 8,356

2022: 8,231

2021: 8,518
2020: 7,352

2019: 8,076

2018: 7,866
2017: 8,202
2016: 7,055
2015: 5,065

2023: 22.89

2022: 22.55

2021: 23.34
2020: 20.1

2019: 22.1
2018: 21.5
2017: 22.5
2016: 19.3
2015: 13.8

Best calendar month

2023: 809,833

2022: 809,370 (Apr)

2021: 837,580 
2020: 808,234

2019: 848,283

2018: 742,185
2017: 855,833
2016: 791,059 
2015: 631,104

2023: 26,124

2023: 732.6

2023: 23.6

Best day

2023: 40,685

2022: 40,682

2021: 39,120
2020: 36,794

2019: 44,166

2018: 36,874
2017: 55,454
2016: 46,106
2015: 38,953

2023: 36.5

(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.

Since 2015, I've walked/run the equivalent of 1.75 times round the world (and yet I'm still not getting anywhere!).

While this year's steps weren't my highest ever average, the standard deviation was low – I was far more consistent month by month than I've ever been before. My lowest monthly average was April's 24,090, my highest October's 26,124.

I admit it is an obsession, but it is a deliberate one…

Last year I wrote "I can and sometimes do feel like stopping" – yet on 2 August I really wasn't feeling that way. The health benefits over the last few years have been so positive, I don't want to let it go. Mrs MSE said to me "you're FREE" after I missed my target, but I don't want that freedom, I worry if I let go of it, it'll never come back.

My steps are all built based on self-imposed rules. The sacrosanct one, as you've realised, is to never miss the 10,000 a day buzz. Yet I have softer goals too: I aim for 25,000 steps a day, but try not to miss 20,000 (I miss it about 20 times a year). I also go for a minimum 160,000 step week, and 750,000 step month (except February).

To help me hit these targets, I'm fortunate enough to have a home treadmill, and in recent years, to protect my knees, I added an elliptical (cross trainer).

I start almost every day with between 40 minutes to an hour of cardio on those (the elliptical is favoured on weekdays as I can read the papers, my emails and key documents, so no work time is lost), which means I'm normally on 8,000 steps or more before I do owt else. Yet that's still far less than 50% of my steps.

My one big rule… if I'm talking, I'm walking

If I have a phone call to make, or a meeting that doesn't need a video call, then I do it while walking. Often, this is outdoors – I try to get all my calls arranged in a row, so I can have a long walk.

Each Tuesday for example, I don't get transport to the studio for my show. I do the 75-minute walk to the studio, whatever the weather, and while walking I'm in a Google meet with the team to work through the structure of the show. We usually finish the meet about five minutes before I arrive.

If I can't get outside to walk, then I either walk around and around my office, or go downstairs and walk on the treadmill. In fact it's now instinctive that if the phone rings and I'm sitting down, I jump up before I answer it. Even if it's a friend in the evening, I get up from my seat and start walking around the room (and yes, if I've not quite made my target, then I will walk around and around the house near midnight to get over the limit).

And it's not just about calls, it's about transport too, my mentality is to try to avoid any other form of transport unless there's a good reason, for example:

- It's over 10km away or over 3km if I'm with mini MSE.
- It's very early or very late (or I'm very late).
- I've got golf clubs with me.

For many this will sound bizarre, but obeying self-imposed routines can help with health and fitness, so if it keeps me stepping, it's good.

How does this compare to pre-tracker years?

As soon as I got a tracker, I started walking more. As a numbers person, the self-monitoring had a real impact.

A example of this is in my running and cross training (which I have a separate graph for, of course). I used to do this before I had trackers, but the distances covered then were a fraction of what I do now.

Back then, I would graph my times to see if I got quicker. Yet with speed as my key performance indicator, as progression isn't linear, if I'd start a run and realise it wasn't a fast day, it was demotivating and I'd sometimes stop.

Partly due to the tracker, I switched to an annual distance target which means every run, even a slow one, feeds the graph. In 2020, I smashed the pants off my run (and cross training) doing over 2,000km – doubling the prior 1,000km was the target. And it's kept increasing. In 2023, my new record was a 3,300km combined run and elliptical.

The health impact

While my weight varies (I'm writing this just after the Christmas break!), I'm substantially lighter than when I started stepping – no surprise, as according to my fitness tracker I'm burning 3,500 to 4,000 calories a day. I'm not sure how real that number is, but certainly my energy use is greater.

My core stability is stronger, and some of my repetitive strain injury and back pain has gone (I'd never put this together until I mentioned it to a physio and he asked if I now walked more, as apparently it's a great help for backs).

I tend to think of running as for fitness and my mental health, while walking is for physical health and relaxation – for the few minutes I'm off the phone when walking, a little bit of me-time or listening to an audiobook in a day is useful. Sadly it isn't a cure-all for stress and anxiety, but it helps reduce some of the impact.

A risk to my step obsession is it means I tend to be put off exercise which gets me no steps, like cycling (I've tried wearing my tracker on my leg, but it isn't great).

So over the last couple of years, I've added a weight training graph too, to encourage me to do that. In 2023, I ramped that up and did 241 sessions (45 more than my prior best the year before).

Are the steps accurate?

Apparently, according to the technology broadcaster @LaraLewington (also known in these blogs as Mrs MSE), step accuracy has improved a lot in recent years. In 2015, she did a film wearing four different trackers for a week, and there were substantial inconsistencies between them. Yet a repeat of that in 2022 (which sadly isn't available online) showed how much things had improved.

Regardless though, accuracy is less important than consistency. I compete with myself based on the same metrics – number of steps in a day.

And my fixation hasn't only helped me – when some friends who are linked via an app see my steps, they often up their own steppage (though others have also found it demotivating to be linked to an obsessive). Unsurprisingly, I do get a tad competitive about it.

Best of all though and a reason for keeping writing an annual blog is that each year, many people have been in contact to say that they inspired them to start stepping more – especially the 'never miss your buzz' challenge. I hope a few more will do after reading this.

If you're a stepper too, do let me know how you did last year either via the forum discussion below or my Twitter.