Today we will explore how to set SMART goals for your Fitbit or other wearable activity tracker. New Fitbit and activity tracking device users often ask what they should set for their step or activity goals.
In all aspects of life, setting the right goals for you makes success more likely both short and long-term. But what is the right goal for you?
The standard 10,000 steps a day may be perfect for you. Or you may do better aiming for more steps or fewer steps for now. It may even be that step count is not your ideal goal.
Step counting programs, such as 10k a day, are usually intended to make it easier to improve one’s activity level. The step count is an indicator of overall activity and a measurable number to gauge your progress. Usually, the “magic” is not literally about whether you walk 10,000 steps.
It is more about how much you move. Some activities are generously counted by step trackers while others are not. This is one reason you may want to create your own goals, it may depend a little on the type of activity you do.
However, you can think beyond just a total step count. There are several types of goals that a Fitbit (and many other activity tracking devices) facilitate.
Types of Activity Goals You Fitbit Can Track:
- Steps: Sometimes people ask why not track distance rather than steps? Either is fine, it is your goal. The reason people tend to count steps is a good (though imperfect) measure of general activity. Any movement sufficient to count as a step is included whether you travel any distance or not.
- Distance: I don’t recommend distance for a general activity goal though it is an excellent goal for endurance sport training.
- Calories Burned: I don’t recommend overly fixating on calorie burn as all we are working with are estimates. However, using a calorie burn goal can be a good, holistic way to work towards a higher activity level. And it is a method that factors in non-step activities like swimming, weight lifting, cycling, yoga and well, just about anything a step counting activity tracker would miss. You can use a Fitbit or activity tracker in this way.
- Active minutes: Activity guidelines often refer to recommended activity minutes. Many activity trackers, including the Fitbit will credit active minutes for minutes spent in certain activity levels. Many wearable trackers, including the Fitbit, allow you to manually log activity. This allows you options to factor in non-step activity such as swimming, weight training, kettle bells, cycling or other activities where the step count does not accurately convey the intensity of the activity.
- Floors: For some, tracking flights of stairs or hills climbed may be a useful activity goal. This can be helpful if you live or work in a multi-story building and you are interested in using the stairs to improve your fitness.
Please note: In most cases, the Fitbit or other wearable tracker is estimating rather than directly measuring the statistics it reports. The distance estimate is based on your stats, stride length and steps (or sometimes from GPS data depending on the device). The calorie burn is usually based on your profile stats and your movement throughout the day.
The activity minutes are usually based converting your movement into MET values (a different post!) and tends to be more accurate for some activities than others. Please use these goals and the stats as a guideline not as scientifically proven fact!
Think SMART Goals, Not Hard Goals:
The best goal for you is the goal you have to work a little harder to achieve, but you can achieve that goal. Success is contagious. Meeting one goal motivates us to set slightly harder goals and to meet those goals too.
The right goal should put you closer to where you want to be in life. We all may have long-term goals (the results we want) and shorter term goals (the steps we take to get closer to where we want to be).
A SMART short-term goal is: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, a bit of a Reach and Timely.
How do we find those goals?
Start Where You Are When Setting SMART Goals for your Fitbit:
Despite the recommendations, the body needs time to adapt to new activity. Fitness improvements happen during rest and recovery from activity. Without adequate we just won’t see the results we are looking for. How quickly you recover will vary by your age, current fitness, quality of sleep, stress levels, nutrition and other factors. There really is no one size fits all.
For most people, it is often effective to start with your existing activity and add a little to it each week until you reach your ultimate goal of an active lifestyle.
To do this, you first need a sense of where you are starting out. You may be more or less active than you realize. One idea is to wear your tracker for a week and just go about your normal activity. At the end of the week, look at how many steps, miles, active minutes and your typical calorie burn was. What was your high and what was your low? How do you feel about it?
Think Beyond Steps for Truly SMART Goals for your Fitbit:
As mentioned earlier, some highly beneficial activities do not significantly add to your step count. Nearly anyone benefits from some challenging strength training to improve or maintain muscle mass, boost metabolism, improve functional fitness and help maintain bone density. Many also benefit from a yoga, mobility or relaxation program to help manage stress and maintain ease of movement.
And what about those who commute to and from work on their bicycle? Most trackers will allow you to log activities such as these so you are credited in your calorie burn and daily activity numbers if not the step count. Developers of step counting pedometer programs have also considered this and created compendiums to convert healthy non-step activity into steps. Here are a couple of examples:
My point is to think beyond steps. I do a mix of step and non-step activities so find it helpful to have a mix of step goals and activity minute goals for a more holistic look at my activity.
Work Towards You Vision of Where You Want To Be:
With any goal, creating a vision of your desired lifestyle is essential for success. You can revise that vision as your life unfolds, but having the vision is a powerful motivator.
In the next installment in this series, we will look at how much activity we “need”. Many of us know we want to be more active, but how much more active?
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