Two hundred minutes: one month after pedometers

February 2008 brought me pedometers that would withstand the rigors of tropical running and tallied correctly while running. March 2008 showed that my daily average was 8500 steps. In April, however, my running became increasingly sporadic and my average fell to 7800 steps per day.

On the eighteenth of May my cumulative daily average fell below 8000 for the first time since I began daily records on 25 February. That day also saw a record low of 657 steps for the whole of a Sunday, and capped off a dismal month in which I ran only six times.

Alarmed that I was headed the wrong way from the recommended 10000 steps per day, and that my running was in a state of free fall collapse, I pushed myself out the door 21 times in the next 30 days, averaging 11300 steps per day for the same period.

The pedometer had been an important motivator - seeing the numbers collapse, and the specific trigger of the fall below 7000 for my cumulative daily average, had gotten me out the door. I was running again. With the announcement in June of a half-marathon to be held in July, I had an additional motivation to get back into shape. This is one intended health impact of pedometers, as a motivator.

During the torrid days of July and August my cumulative average daily steps would rise to 9000 and remain near 9000. Into the fall term, with regular running, my average would remain around 9000. During this time pedometers would become unusable, primarily due to the breakage of their hinge. I had spare pedometers and would switch when another became a casualty of the daily wear and tear.

In October a health check saw my cholesterol up from the previous year, providing more wood for the exercise fire.

By January 2000 I was on my last pedometer, a device that had become an important monitor and motivator for my level of exercise. How to maintain a 10000 step level without a pedometer? Post-pedometer the only sure measure I had was time - duration of running. While I have distances for many "routes" I do not have distances for all possible running routes.

Over a period of few days I crunched numbers, rolled up averages, and calculated linear regressions. Variability was the complication. I would run, think up another metric, and then recalculate. Eventually I found stability and correlation in a number I called the "three month decay of the seven day average time." This led to the determination that maintaining my current level of steps - in the 9500 to 10000 range - required a minimum of 200 minutes of running over any seven day period. In other words, 200 minutes of running per week.

The metric is easy to measure and to track. In daily terms 200 minutes means at least 29 minutes of running a day, or 34 minutes for six days of running and a day of rest. That is about five kilometers a day.

On the fifth of February 2009 the last pedometer died. I had tracked my steps for the previous 342 out of 347 days. Would time be as motivating as the hard numbers of a pedometer?

A month later and the tentative answer is "yes." Using a spreadsheet to track time, as I had tracked steps, I find myself motivated to hold that 200 minute base. In fact, maintaining the 200 minute base is almost more motivational than the pedometer. Knowing that I need 29 minutes per day, 34 if I miss a day, and 40 if I miss two days, is a lot easier to comprehend and think about than steps. I can pick a running route that matches the time I need to stay above 200 minutes.

I did have a cold that coupled up with a busy week that took me below 200 minutes. I did not try to go out and make up the large deficit that had accumulated, just pushed myself out the door to get 29 minutes, knowing that in a few days I would be back on track.

I am now enamored of minutes of exercise. Pedometers will always be a device prone to failure and breakage. As a tool for health, a pedometer might be a good way to start someone exercising. Keeping them exercising beyond the pedometer is the challenge. Maybe minutes of time is a way to transition to a more durable measure.

While 200 minutes is based on numbers unique to me, current recommendations of at least 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, with more being better, provide support for my calculations.

Think about making a weekly total exercise time a goal for you. Be realistic. First determine your current number of weekly minutes of exercise. Based on how satisfied you are with your current fitness, either maintain your current number or make a small adjustment. Track your exercise time - keep a log. Make notes on what exercise you did and how you felt during and afterwards. You will learn something, and you may find a new motivation, a new reason to push yourself out the door and onto the road or into the gym.


  1. Ah! I want a pedometer now. Though my husband scoffs that I will give it any use. "You don't trust the roads, here," he will state dismissively. Which is can I feel safe walking on roads that only have cars and no people, no dogs, and no children playing? There is always the park. Hmmmm. I will strategize on ways to convince my husband.

  2. There are no running paths or parks in the area you might use? No dogs sounds wonderful. Of course the upside to getting chased by biting dogs is that eventually I either learn the name of the dog or the name of the family that owns the dog. I view biting dogs as ways to make friends with families I have not yet met. Of course we only have "island dogs" - no trained attack dogs or anything so serious. I could not do the same elsewhere.


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