The Obsessed Fortysomething Runner: Using my smartphone as a FitBit

Samsung Galaxy S5’s S Health app

I recently upgraded my smartphone to the Samsung Galaxy S5, and I’ve been playing around with the S Health app for a week and a half now. If you haven’t followed the Galaxy line of phones, the S5 comes with two hardware features that the S4 lacks: (1) a waterproof(!) casing; and (2) a heart rate monitor. In our rainy environment, the waterproofing is definitely a nice feature, although I’m too scared to test it directly. The heart rate monitor, on the other hand, is more of a fringe addition. It does seem to work reasonably well until I really get going, at which point it fails to register anything above 96 bpm.

Anyway, the phone also came preloaded with Samsung’s S Health app, which aims to be an all-purpose fitness tracker, food log, health monitor, etc. I’ve been using RunKeeper and LoseIt! too long to switch from those, but I have been using S Health’s pedometer function consistently. As with other pedometer apps, it uses the smartphone’s accelerometer to gauge whether you are walking; it’s not GPS-based.

It sets a default goal of 10,000 steps a day, which is a common recommendation for general health and fitness. Now, 10,000 steps is close to 5 miles, so I suppose if you run an average of 5 miles a day (~35 miles/week), you’re already there. I happen to be averaging just under 40 miles/week right now, so . . . end of this blog post?

Not so fast. I already know that I exceed the Centers for Disease Control’s basic recommendation for 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity, so my reason for tracking steps isn’t part of a specific fitness routine. (In fact, I’m not even logging the suggested calorie burn from the steps taken.*) I’m doing this because I’m curious about how much walking I do on a day to day basis, and also for motivation to avoid sitting for too long, given the reports that “sitting is the new smoking.

* I’m not looking to lose weight, but if I were, it’s not clear that all of the calorie expenditure via daily movement should be logged as exercise anyway. Some of that has to be non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), which is calorie burning above and beyond just daily existence. (In other words, everything above your basal metabolic rate, which is typically a few hundred calories below the recommended 2000 calories/day, depending on your age, weight, and gender.) This is probably why some users of FitBits or other fitness bands actually end up gaining weight.

 It turns out that taking 10,000 steps a day without counting running steps is pretty hard for an office worker like me. (In my defense, I’ll just say that when the academic year begins, I should be getting more steps, since I tend to pace back and forth at the front of the classroom when I’m teaching.)

7/26: 7200 (this included going around the inside of the Moda Center once during halftime of the Portland Thunder arena football game)

7/27: 7000

7/28: 7000 (it read 29,700 steps but that’s because I had it tracking during a 13.7 mile run outside)

7/29: 4600

7/30: 9700 (so close! a lot of chores around the house on this day)

7/31: 8500

8/1: 5300

8/2: 8700

8/3: 8900 (boosted by the evening hour I spent pacing the hallway while reading a novel)

8/4: 8800

8/5: 10,300 (success! about 2000 steps occurred during an hour long school supply shopping trip)

8/6: 9400

8/7: 6300  (slacker day! but I did run 7 miles outside whose steps I didn’t count)

8/8: 10,600 (success! a lot of back-and-forth at home while packing for a short weekend trip)

8/9: 11,700 (a lot of walking around Long Beach, WA’s Discovery Trail)

8/10: 12,200 (small doses of packing, walking through the exhibits at the Cape Disappointment Interpretative Center, and hiking all add up)

Conclusions: Obviously a wearable fitness tracker like the FitBit is going to be more convenient than a smartphone if you want to count all of your steps. But if you don’t want to shell out the extra money for yet another gadget, there are a number of pedometer apps available. I’d say that it has incentivized me to take extra steps; as you can see, I have boosted my typical step range from the 7000s earlier on to 9000+ more recently. There have been some evenings when I’ve paced back and forth like a caged animal while watching TV, so if you too are motivated by achieving goals, using a pedometer app like S Health may lead you to taking extra steps over the course of a day. I wouldn’t really count on it as a primary weight management tool, though.

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