Walking – Pedometer versus Fitness Tracker

Be healthy and green. Walk more, drive less.

Walking is good for your health and the planet. A pedometer or fitness tracker can be fun and help you stay accountable to yourself.

For our early ancestors, walking was an integral part of daily life and they walked everywhere. Getting from point A to point B contributed to staying fit and healthy and did not involve polluting the environment.

Nowadays, it seems like many people view walking as something to avoid if possible by driving places they could easily walk to in 10 or 15 minutes or sitting in idling cars waiting for the closest parking space. To compound matters, a lot of people work at sedentary jobs requiring sitting for long periods.

Fortunately, human beings are adaptable and we are able to learn new habits and renew previous ones. If you have gotten out of the habit of walking, you can choose to make walking part of your daily life, again.

A pedometer or fitness tracker can help you stay on track and give you a sense of accomplishment. Hopefully, the information below will help you determine if a pedometer or fitness tracker might be right for you and what type of product and features will help you fulfill your walking goals.

Pedometer Overview ($25 to $35)

Omron Alvita Ultimate Pedometer in GreyThe main function of a pedometer is to count your steps and estimate the distance you travel in a day. Most models will also estimate the number of aerobic (heartbeat-raising) minutes you walk and calories you burn, display the time, and hold seven days worth of memory.

Pedometer Set Up

Before setting up your pedometer, you will need to calculate your stride by walking 10 steps, measuring the distance with a tape measure, and dividing by 10. Repeat this process several times to make sure you are walking with your normal stride or it will skew your data. As an example, my normal walking stride is 210” divided by 10 = 21” or 1’-9.”

To set up your pedometer you enter the time and your height, weight, and stride. Then stick it in your pocket or clip it onto your waistband and start walking.

Pedometer Accuracy

The mechanism a pedometer uses to track steps seems to work best when you mostly walk on level ground. They tend to undercount steps when you are walking up or down stairs or hiking up and down hills. Also, keep in mind that your calories burned figure is a ballpark estimate based on limited information.

Fitness Tracker Overview ($50 to $250)

Fitness trackers function as pedometers with a few or a lot of additional features, such as estimating the number of staircases you climb, monitoring your heart rate, tracking your sleep patterns, logging all types of exercise, keeping track of your food and water intake, and integrating into your social media accounts. Some have GPS, texting and email, and alerts, like vibrating to let you know you have been sitting too long.

Fitness trackers use wireless technology to communicate with your smartphone and/or computer. This makes it easy to store, compare, and share your data and achievements.

Important Note – your smartphone needs to be a certain version or above to integrate with your fitness tracker. However, you can just sync your fitness tracker with your computer and track your data online.

Fitness Tracker Set Up

To get started with setting up your fitness tracker, you download the appropriate smartphone and computer apps. Then you create a profile and enter the same information you would for a pedometer. If you choose, enter your exercise and weight goals. Some trackers do not require you enter your stride length, but it is more accurate if you do.

Depending on the product you purchased, put it in your pocket, clip it onto your waistband, or strap it to your wrist and start walking.

Fitness Tracker Accuracy

Fitness trackers usually have more advanced mechanisms and sensors than pedometers so they seem to track steps and calories burned more accurately.

Pedometer versus Fitness Tracker

I bought my first pedometer in January 2010 to help me accomplish my New Year’s resolution of incorporating more walking into my day with a goal of walking 10,000 steps each day. It worked!

Fast forward to early 2016. I was nearing the end of a grueling year of treatment for breast cancer and I was ready to undertake the challenge of regaining my pre-cancer fitness level. It was hard work and I wanted to get “credit” for every step, including walking up and down the stairs in my 2-story house, so I decided to switch to a more accurate step counting fitness tracker.

After conducting research online and reading user reviews, I bought two fitness trackers to try out. I chose the Microsoft Band 2 because it seemed to have the most sophisticated mechanisms for counting steps and I selected the Fitbit One because it is tiny.

Microsoft Band 2 Review

I wore the Band 2 on my wrist for over a year and I even wore it while I slept for a few months. It was interesting to know how many staircases I climbed each day, how many hours of deep sleep I got, and what my heart beat rate was after doing a strenuous task, but it was unnecessary. Wearing something on my wrist was uncomfortable while typing on a computer keyboard and while sleeping.

Microsoft Band 2 Wireless Fitness Tracker

The Band 2 ($249.99) does count steps accurately but I wasted money on features I do not need or use. Microsoft has since discontinued this product.

Fit Bit One Review

I switched to the Fitbit One, which easily fits in my pocket. Although it will track sleep, I have not used the sleep wristband and do not intend to. I enjoy the little flower on the display screen that grows and shrinks depending on my activity level, but it is not necessary.

Fitbit One Wireless Fitness TrackerLike the Band 2, the FitBit One ($99.99) counts steps accurately and has features I do not need or use. However, being able to view my progress on my computer helps me stay motivated and earning badges is fun.

The Bottom Line

A pedometer is an inexpensive tool that can help you build more walking into your daily routine and then stick with it. If you do not walk up and down a lot of stairs or hills or are not that concerned with counting every step, a pedometer is a good choice.

Unless you are a professional athlete or a serious exercise enthusiast, many fitness tracker features might seem cool when you are reading about them but end up being unnecessary. If you want accurate step counting, data tracking, and/or like sharing on social media, a fitness tracker might work best for you.

Me, I am sticking with the Fitbit One because I want “credit” for every step.

Hopefully, the information above will help you decide whether to buy a pedometer or fitness tracker and what things to think about before you do buy one. The bottom line is that walking more and driving less is good for you and the planet.

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Paper versus Digital Media – Environmental Impact

Stack of Newspapers with Notebook Computer

Which is greener, paper books or ebooks, paper magazines and newspapers or their digital counterparts? Are your reading habits harming the planet?

Reading is a good thing, right? Is paper or pixels a more environmentally friendly way to read? The answer is, well, um, it is complicated. Making an apples-to-apples comparison of the environmental impact of paper versus digital media is difficult, if not impossible.

A paper book, magazine, or newspaper is a tangible item that you can pick up and hold while you are reading it. A digital book, magazine, or newspaper is an intangible virtual item. The thing that you touch or hold in your hand for reading is an electronic device like a desktop computer, notebook, tablet, e-reader, or smartphone. Unless you read on a uni-tasking e-reader, these devices do a lot more than providing reading material.

A direct comparison may not be feasible, however, you and I can learn about the environmental issues associated with paper and digital media and explore how we can green our own reading habits.

Paper and digital media do have some common environmental issues including:

  • Extracting materials, whether it is logging trees or mining minerals and metals, damages and pollutes the surrounding land and water harming wildlife and people.
  • Making paper and manufacturing electronic devices requires huge amounts of energy and water.
  • Transporting everything from raw materials to finished goods via fossil fuel powered trucks, ships, cars, and airplanes produces greenhouse gases and air pollution.
  • Manufacturing facilities, warehouses, retail stores, data centers, and libraries require energy and water to operate.
  • Throughout its life cycle, each product generates nontoxic and toxic waste, including during recycling.

To me, the top environmental issue associated with paper is deforestation and the worst environmental problem with electronic devices is e-waste.

Deforestation

Making paper requires trees, hundreds of millions of trees. Thousands of things are made of wood and paper so it is not just books, magazines, and newspapers contributing to destroying forests.

A forest is a complex ecosystem containing many different species of trees, plants, and animals all working together for their own benefit and giving us oxygen, water filtration, and beauty.

Industrial loggers clearcutting a forest
Industrial loggers clearcutting a forest

Industrial logging destroys the balance of forest ecosystems. The trees, plants, and animals that used to live in the forest are killed in the process, must flee the area if they can, or die out in the aftermath.

People living in or near devastated forests suffer unintended consequences like erosion, flooding, and water pollution. Walking through a forest that has been clearcut is a heartrending experience.

Paper companies point out that trees can be grown and are therefore a renewable resource. Technically, this is true. However, a tree plantation containing a specific type of tree planted for harvesting (perhaps on land that used to be a forest) does not replace a forest ecosystem.

E-Waste

At the end of their useful life, desktop computers, notebooks, tablets, e-readers, and smartphones contain both valuable materials that can be recycled and toxic materials that require special handling.

Recycling processes can recover valuable materials like gold, palladium, platinum, rhodium, ruthenium, selenium, iridium, indium, copper, nickel, and cobalt.

Other materials in electronic devices are toxic and need to be disposed of carefully including lead, mercury, cadmium, brominated flame retardants, antimony trioxide, polyvinyl chloride, and phthalates.

Unfortunately, our society places a higher value on replacing obsolete or broken electronic devices than on repairing or recycling them. We also do not include the harm caused to the environment or to people in the cost of goods and services, which keeps prices of new products low.

Child sitting among toxic e-waste
Child sitting among toxic e-waste

There is little financial incentive for recycling so the majority of unwanted and obsolete electronic devices end up as e-waste in landfills where they leach toxins into the soil, air, and water. Even worse, we ship tons of e-waste overseas where people, including children, recycle items by hand with no safety equipment.

Both paper products and electronic devices have significant environmental impacts.

You and I will probably continue reading and electronic devices are ubiquitous so what can we do? We can evaluate our reading materials and make more environmentally friendly choices.

Greening Your Reading Habits

Over the past several years I have been attempting to green my own reading habits. Here are a few examples and some thought starters.

Stop Subscribing

The thing about subscriptions is that they are easy to renew without giving much thought to it. Do unread newspapers wind up in your recycle bin on a regular basis? Are magazines stacking up on your end table waiting to be read? Perhaps it is a good time to let your subscription expire.

I gave up magazines when I realized I never seemed to get around to reading them. These days, I occasionally treat myself to a magazine and then pass it on.

Go Digital

Over 15.2 billion pounds of newspapers and 2.5 million pounds of magazines were generated in the United States in 2014. Newspapers and magazines have a limited shelf life so switching to digital versions is a green thing to do.

Nowadays, I subscribe to a daily digital newspaper that I read on my computer and a small local weekly paper that is delivered to my mailbox.

Sharing

If you are not ready to give up your paper newspaper or magazine, then consider sharing a subscription with a neighbor, friend, or coworker. If everyone did that, it would save an enormous number of trees.

Sharing paper books that you purchased by giving them to friends, donating them to a library, or selling them to a second-hand bookstore is an eco-friendly practice.

I am a book lover. During my lifetime I have bought hundreds of books and donated many to the library, but I still had a sizable collection. A year or so ago, it occurred to me that perhaps holding onto books that I am not going to re-read or use for reference was, well, um, selfish. So, now I am giving away and donating most of my books except for a few of my favorites.

Smart Shopping

If you switch to digital newspapers and magazines, first try reading them on an electronic device you already own. If you choose to purchase a new device, skip a uni-tasking e-reader and buy a multi-purpose piece of equipment that you can see yourself using for several years or more.

When shopping online for paper media or electronic devices, beware of shipping. Selecting expedited shipping (regardless of whether it is free or not) can hugely increase the carbon footprint of your purchase if it is shipped on an airplane.

Visit the Library

The greenest option is to not shop and visit your local library where you can read paper books, magazines, and newspapers to your heart’s content and use an electronic device to read many digital items, too.

National Library Week runs from April 9 to 15, 2017, so this is the perfect time to stop by and find out what is available at your local library.

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