Fitbit and the Myth of 10,000 Steps

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The Japanese Manpo-Meter Step Counter

Who doesn’t recall the obese prison guard on Orange is the New Black several seasons ago monotonously stepping in place because, “10,000 steps a day will cause weight loss.”

Well, that’s not rocket science. Sure, calories burned vs calories consumed will result in weight loss. But although Fitbit has capitalized on that and put 10,000 out as a magic number, it is still just an arbitrary number. There’s no there, there. On their site they say, ” When you join Fitbit, the default goal we set for each member is the magical number of 10,000 steps a day.”

Where the Fitbit Myth Started

Although 10,000 steps is just a number grabbed out of thin air, it does have a history and it didn’t start with Fitbit. Back in the 1960s, following the Tokyo Olympics, a Japanese company began selling the MANPO-METER which was basically a pedometer. They decided that 10,000 steps per day was just what the doctor ordered for better health.

Of course, there was no doctor; this was pure marketing and it worked like a charm. And after all these years, modern marketers have put lipstick on the pig and the Fitbit phenomenon has been the result. It’s hard to walk down the street and not see a handful of people checking their wrists.

The Good News; it Doesn’t Matter

Alright now that the myth-busting is over let’s get down to science. Yes, for fitness and better health we do need exercise. 10,000 steps is a worthy goal but not all steps are created equal. As a rule of thumb, it has long been bandied about that you have to burn 3,500 calories to lose one pound of fat mass. Don’t put all your confidence in “pounds;” get more accurate by following your scientific BMI metrics.

But some researchers now cast doubts on the calories/pound relationship. Like everything else, there are just too many variables involved. Bottom line, not all steps are created equal.

To make your effort count:

  • Increase your speed when walking; this will increase your heart rate and metabolism.
  • If you are running, do intervals or some form of speedwork once a week.
  • Consider training for a race. This will motivate you and put you in the company of like-minded people.
  • Hit the hills. This will work you harder.
  • Bump up your mileage/time. To ward off hitting a plateau, increase your effort daily.
  • Change your eating habits. Eat quality food, not junk. Small snacks like nuts are good to keep your blood sugar stable.

So, Should You Invest in a Fitbit?

Absolutely! Most people need some sort of device to see where they are in their training. You aren’t limited to any one type of device.  For example, I use a Garmin. It gives me elapsed time, distance, pace, elevation, cumulative mileage on my shoes so I know when to change them, and more. As a bonus it’s nice enough to be worn as an everyday watch. It also downloads my data to the computer.

It is also quite possible to get your phone to do all this but cell phones don’t always get along with sweat and rain so there will be times when that is not a good option. Today there are any number of training and weight loss apps available to motivate you and keep you on track.



So go ahead and start with Fitbit’s mythical 10,000 steps as as baseline. It is as good as any other number. And remember, there is nowhere to go but up.



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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Find Your Best Race Distance

by Kelly R. Smith

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Start of the Houston Half Marathon
Start of the Houston Half Marathon

This article was updated on 12/02/20.

As runners, whether as beginners or with years of experience, most of us have our favorite race distances. The basis for that may be fitness level, physical limitations, or just good old personal preference. I have been running since 1975 so I’ve indulged in most of them. Here is what I’ve found out along the highways and byways.

Preparation and Training

No matter what distance you are focusing on or what specific event you are getting ready for it is important to stay healthy. This includes proper nutrition and avoiding overuse injury. In my case this also includes taking meds for high blood pressure. I have learned to deal with the side effects which took a bit of experimenting.

Should you take supplements? Another personal decision. It seems like every month a new “study” proves that they do or don’t help. I take Osteo-bi-Flex for my joints and I think it helps. I also take a multi-vitamin daily to edge my bets. I also take a CoQ10 supplement daily for a wide range of benefits.

What constitutes a “healthy lifestyle” can be a bit arbitrary but I have condensed some of my favorite tips (habits) of successful runners. Feel free to take the ones that work for you and dispense with the rest. As for training, it’s good to develop a weekly mileage base. A minimum of 20 miles per week is good for most people. After that, tailor your workouts to the distance your are specifically training for.

Running Track Events

Now This is Having Fun!

Track events can vary from very short sprints to longer distances like the 10K or the steeplechase. I’ll be honest; these are not my favorite races. They just hurt too much and the training is boring. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mind doing speedwork and intervals one day a week but not for the bulk of my training. I would rather be out on the roads or trails.

Of course a lot of this has to do with your DNA. Runners who have inherited predominately fast-twitch muscles may find these events fun, but alas, I fall on the other end of the spectrum.

The Ever-Popular 5K Race

There are many reasons why the 5K is so popular. It is well within the reach of beginning runners, it’s easy to stage as a local fund-raiser, and it ties in nicely with holidays like Thanksgiving and Labor Day.

Training for this distance is not overly involved. I would recommend the following per week:  one speedwork workout, one long run of 6 to 10 miles, three runs of 3 miles, and one cross-training workout of personal choice (swimming, cycling, hiking, weights, yoga, ect.)

The race strategy is a short warm-up before the race to loosen up the muscles, going out confidently when the gun goes off, and then ramping up the pace. At a mile and a half in you should be breathing hard but not dying.

The 10K as a Middle-Distance Race

Whereas 5Ks can be considered any-weekend, any-community events, 10K races are a little harder to find. They are harder to stage requiring more police cooperation, more port-o-potties, and usually a stricter time limit so the police can go home and the volunteers can get the cones off the route.

Training for this distance is basically the same routine as the 5K with the distances bumped up. Mid-week runs should be 4-5 miles and the weekend long run should approach 8 miles.

My strategy for this distance is no warm-up, position myself about halfway back in the pack, go out easy at a conversational pace, and begin to ramp it up. Once the pack thins out to allow some maneuvering I do so passing when I can but not wasting energy. The last half mile should have you breathing heavily and of course when you can see the finish line you should be sprinting. You can generally find some other poor soul to lock horns in battle with.

Bumping It Up to the Half Marathon

This is my favorite distance. Finding a half usually requires a road trip of some sort unless you live in or near a larger community. These are usually fall races so you really need to start ramping up your training plan mid-summer or so.

The most important part of training is your weekly long run. Because of the time involved in the actual run and the subsequent relaxing and socializing, Saturday or Sunday are good choices. You should be doing upwards of 15 miles two weeks out from race day. Carry lots of water! I like a running water bottle belt. The one in the picture below is the one I use. The angled bottle ensures that a tall bottle won’t rub the hide off your spine like the straight up-and-down ones tend to do. Hide water bottles along your route if you need to. Use Body Glide or an equivalent to avoid chafing. It only takes one session of agony in the last couple of miles to make one a believer!

The week prior to the event you should do some serious tapering. Just a few miles for your midweek runs, and of course, no long run. As far as race strategy goes I just like to have fun. Go out very easy and settle into a good conversational pace. Beginning at about the halfway point I walk the water stations and mix a cup of water with some Gatorade; the full-strength stuff is just too much. I should mention here that not all races use Gatorade. Find out in advance what brand of sports drink they will be serving up and train with that. Run the tangents. You would be surprised how cumulative those extra few feet on every corner are.

Run a Full Marathon

How many times have you heard non-runners say a marathon is on their bucket list? My guess is that most of those buckets never get filled! But for runners there is really nothing bucketeseque about a full marathon; it’s just another notch on the old belt. Like when the guy at the office asks, “So, what did you do fun over the weekend?” To which you reply, “Oh, not much; just went for a run with 8,000 of my closest friends.” No small wonder that sedentary people think we’re crazy.

The training and strategy are basically the same as for the half  but there’s just more mileage involved. I always allow about six months of ramping up my training. Of course, following the 10% rule (no more than 10% weekly mileage total per week; no more than 10% increase in long run distance every other week). The weeks between long  runs should now be 10-12 miles in length.

Ready to Step it  Up to an Ultramarathon?

This is Me at the Sunmart Ultramarathon

I’ve done the Sunmart Ultra 5 times and enjoyed every one of them. The hardest thing for me was the psychological aspect. The distance for me was not the issue, it was the fact that it was a multi-loop course after the initial 10K segment. Every time I went through the check-in station it was, “Oh Lord here we go again.” The upside is that you meet some really nice people.

The training was almost the same as for the marathon except for the enormous amount of mileage I had to put in for training. In fact, many times I had to break up my long runs between Saturday and Sunday. That started beginning when my scheduled long run called for over 20 miles. Even starting a couple hours before dawn that South Texas sun would take its toll.

With this volume of weekly distance, allowing adequate time for running recovery became critical. At that time I was also very active with triathlons and quickly found out that long, slow lap swimming was my friend. It’s really like a massage.

So there you have it; these are some of the things I have learned over the years. Take from it what you will and I hope some of it will help you and contribute to avoiding injury. We are all built differently and that’s why there are so many training concepts, no matter what you discover to be your best race distance.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Top Training and Weight Loss Apps

Myfitnesspal App Screenshot

How many times have you heard, “There’s an app for that!” It’s true; the market is flooded with them for everything from generating prime numbers to identifying flowers. The problem is that some of them are pure junk that just take up space on your phone. With that in mind, here are the top training and weight loss apps. We’ve done the research for you so you won’t have to.

MyFitnessPal

Perhaps the best thing about the MyFitnessPal app is its vast database of more than one million foods, listing counts of calories, macros, and other nutrients.Whether you are on a diet for weight loss or you are just getting the best bang for your buck to fuel your next grueling workout, this app has your back. It can also guide you in setting the applicable weight loss goals that are based on your current weight, how many pounds you are looking to lose, and your present exercise level.

Waterlogged

Hydration is one thing that we don’t always pay enough attention to. Sometimes we just don’t feel thirsty and that’s fine if you are just going to drive home after work. But if you have an afternoon workout planned instead, this can be a bad thing. Waterlogged lets you set reminders at scheduled times or at random intervals to swig more water and track of how well you are at meeting your daily drinking goals.

Talkspace

Talkspace aims its focus on the mental side of your life. Face it, you might be down because you are not meeting your goals. You may be peeved off because that cruel taskmaster of a boss is ruining your workouts by imposing seemingly random work schedules and slamming you with impromptu overtime. Whatever. You just need to vent. This app gives you access to professional counseling anywhere, 24/7.

My Asics

This app is a wonderful planning tool. It will create a training plan for a specific upcoming event. In doing this it takes into consideration your current fitness level and personal goals. And no, you don’t have to be running in Asics for this to work although it is a clever marketing move.

Happy Scale

As handy as they are, weight scales don’t really give you your “true” weight, because it does not take into consideration the state of your hormonal fluctuations or whether you are carrying more poundage due to constipation or water retention. Happy Scale strives to take these fluctuations out of your weight measurements and that makes makes for a nice, smooth curve if you are graphing it.

BioForce HRV

Have you considered your heart rate variability? This is defined as the fluctuations in the amount of time between each heartbeat. Knowing it is important because this metric is a marker of your body’s current stress levels and exercise recovery status.

Too much fluctuation indicates fatigue, and BioForce HRV uses these numbers to determine just how hard you can effectively work out. “I’ve used this for years,” Men’s Health nutrition advisor Mike Roussell, Ph.D. tells us. “It allows me to know how long and hard I should train that day based on the state of my nervous system.”

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Fooducate

Fooducate is impartial and will tell you things that that nutrition label on the box tries to hide. It boasts a database of more than 250,000 items. It works this way — you scan a food UPC label using your smartphone’s camera and it will rate the product with a letter grade with an explanation for why it is or why it is not healthy. It will also give you a list of healthier options that are related to the product you’re eyeing.

Healthy Out

It’s rough for folks watching what they eat to find healthy options when they’re out on the town. HealthyOut uses GPS to compile a list of eateries in your area, as well as recommended menu items for a healthy meal. It will also pony up some additional tips on how you can make the dish healthier, like leaving croutons off a salad.

Yummly

It takes the guesswork out of deciding what to cook. Just give it your dietary preferences (such as Paleo, low-carb, or Keto), favorite types of food, and your cooking abilities This will generate a list of recipes that will suit your food style preferences and lifestyle choices. It will also provide shopping lists from your favorite recipes. One less thing to fret over.

Give one or more of these training and weight loss apps a spin and see if it doesn’t make your life just a little bit easier.


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10 Habits of Highly-Successful Runners

by Kelly R. Smith

A healthy runner is a happy runner.
A healthy runner is a happy runner.
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Article edited on 10/28/18

By definition, we runners are creatures of habit. We simply don’t feel right if we miss a workout and sometimes push harder on the next one to make amends. This makes it a healthy habit in our eyes and occasionally just a bit on the kooky side in the eyes of our sedentary counterparts.

We are also goal-setters. This is easy for beginning runners when the opportunities are as open and unlimited as the blue west Texas sky. The first 5K, the first 10K and so it goes until we have marked off our bucket list so many pounds lost, that first marathon or ultramarathon.

But what happens after that? Do we crater? Hopefully not. Although I must admit that I don’t see as many of the old crew at the races as I used to. I don’t do as many as I used to anymore either; I just focus on the Texas Bridge Series.



But I do keep running. My goal now is just to keep running until I eventually lay down for that long, long dirt sleep, as long as the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t claim me. Now that is a worthy goal. With that in mind, lets look at some the 10 habits of successful runners. As I define success, it’s keepin’ on keepin’ on; with 5 ultras under my belt more distance isn’t the answer it once was. For you it might be still climbing that ladder of goals.

Do Your Strength Training. Many runners neglect the weight training and this is a mistake. Building and maintaining lean muscle mass balances us out and reduces the prospect of injury. There is a good reason that those in the know continually stress the importance of maintaining a strong core. Choose exercises that work the upper body, core and lower body. Shoot for 3 times a week. There is really no reason for a gym membership unless you need the swimming pool. Resistance bands are very economical and versatile and will even fit in your suitcase if you spend time on the road.

Chow Down on More Vegetables. You don’t have to adopt Michelle Obama’s school menu, but try to fit more organic veggies into your lunch and dinner meals. The point is that high-quality carbohydrates lend power to your workouts, and their antioxidants help keep the potentially damaging free radicals at bay.  Myself, I’m nuts about salad. Try to select vegetables of different colors since that virtually guarantees that you will get a broad range of nutrients and avoid nutrient deficiency. And don’t forget to add some cheese; calcium and protein are good things. That being said, don’t skimp on high-quality protein; it boosts metabolism and repairs muscle.

Make Running Your First Activity of the Day. After your coffee of course. You afternoon runners know the drill; the later it is in the day, the more things arise to threaten your workout. Plus the fact that it gives you altogether too much time to talk yourself out of it. And isn’t it worth the early wake-up call to already be endorphin-saturated when you are faced with the prospect of a boring meeting at the office? Enjoying another cup o’ joe? When you set your alarm before bed, be sure to allow enough time for your warm-up routine. Be sure to set out all your essentials the night before so you can plug ‘n play. That means shorts, shoes, socks, water bottle, etc.

Get in Some Cross-Training. As good as running is for us, it is very stressful on the body. Some swimming, spinning and time on the rowing machine will maintain your level of fitness while at the same time giving your joints a break. With that in mind, a couple of good times to work cross-training into your schedule is on the day before or the day after a hard run. I’ve found that some slow yet long lap swimming is just the thing to elevate my heart rate while also getting a great all-over stretch in.

Dump the Gadgets Once in a While. We have become obsessed with cell phones, GPS, earbuds blocking out the world and God knows what else. It will do your soul good to leave all that junk behind every now and again when you hit the road or trails; get out of your box. Enjoy the sights. Listen to your breathing. Smell stuff. Do something nice and redeeming that doesn’t reek of “me.” I run early in the morning and stop to pick up earthworms that have slithered up onto the sidewalk and lost their bearings. I toss them back into the deep grass before the ants can attack them like so many Lilliputians on Gulliver. Weird? Hell yeah, but you wouldn’t believe my karma bank account. Besides, all this will remind you of why you run in the first place.



Make Your Weekly Long Run a High-Quality One. If you are not already doing a weekly long run now is the time to start. They are not just to be used as part of a marathon program. The physical benefits are many including beneficial enzyme changes in you legs, new capillary growth, and musculoskeletal strengthening. Remember to follow the 10% rule to avoid injury—don’t bump up the distance more than 10% from one week to the next. If Saturday morning is your long run, Friday is a good candidate for a rest day. You might want to take your music with you; it can be lonely out there.

Be Your Own Cook. Try to say goodbye to restaurants, fast food places, and greasy spoons, at least for dinner and breakfast. Problem is, you can’t control the ingredients or portions when someone else is doing the culinary duty. Case in point: I tend to have high blood pressure and don’t need all the salt that they seem to administer with a front end loader. Can’t cook? Take a cooking class or just practice, practice, practice. Controlling quality an portions is especially important if you are on an intermittent fasting regimen.

Warm-up before Your Run and Stretch Afterwards. Many runners neglect these two steps and that’s just wrong. Warming up will loosen the muscles that you need limber in order to hit your stride. You might not feel like you need to stretch afterwards (you are already loose as a goose) but during cooling down your muscles will begin to contract rapidly. Static stretching, not ballistic, can prolong that action and reduce soreness. A foam roller can work wonders. Focus on your calves, hip flexors and hamstrings.

Slather on that Sunscreen. Running for hours and hours is a blessing and a curse as far as the sun is concerned. On the one hand, you don’t have to worry about a vitamin D deficiency. On the other hand, your chances of developing skin cancer go way, way up. As a general population, 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer. Ouch. And that estimate also takes those milky-white goth folks into account. Try to use a sports sunscreen; it will not sweat off as easily.

Finally, Get Plenty of Sleep. Sleep is essential for all of us but it is especially critical for runners because the body undergoes some major repair action when we check into nod-land. In fact people that are taking statin medications to control cholesterol are advised to take it only at bedtime because that is when the blood really gets cleaned up.  Cutting back on sleep can cut the amount of glycogen that your body will store for fuel and may result in weight gain. And besides all those interesting facts, the dreams are just fun, right? If you want to boost the enjoyment level, work on developing your lucid dreaming abilities.

Hopefully, this article provided a bit of inspiration. If you need to work on one or more of these 10 habits of highly-successful runners, now is the time. Start working them in one at a time and chart your results. And have fun.


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.