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What's the best way to measure exercise: Steps or time?

Are steps or minutes better for tracking exercise?
Are steps or minutes better for tracking exercise? 02:51

MINNEAPOLIS — Finding the best way to exercise is different from person to person. So too is how they measure progress along the way.

To help you create an efficient workout regimen, we wanted to know, what's a better way of measuring exercise: Steps or time? Good Question.

Counting on the clock or with each stride, two forms of tracking, ultimately, with the same goal.

"Regardless if it's time or steps, I think everyone should be doing it," said Zack Quaderer, a personal trainer with Life Time.

"It's dependent person to person," said Quaderer, when asked if steps or time is a better way to measure exercise. He notes that some people might not have step-tracking devices. "I think the overarching thing that I try to get across is let's just get out and move a little bit."

U.S. guidelines suggest adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week.

But with the advent of wearable step-tracking technology in recent years, researchers wanted to compare which was best.

A study had thousands of women in their early 60s count their steps from 2011 to 2015 while others tracked time. They also received annual health checkups during and in the years after the study. It found that no matter the measurement, those who exercised at a higher level lowered their risk of early death or cardiovascular disease.

The study also noted that steps aren't always a great way to measure exercise, since some people might prefer activities like swimming or biking. Sports like tennis or basketball also require more intense steps than walking, yet the number of steps might be the same in both activities.

When might one form of measurement be more useful than the other? Once again, it depends on the person. Quaderer uses both for his clients.

"The step count is probably an easier way to get a numerical value. So, my people that are more analytical or really like the number side of things, I might go more step-count-based. My people that are kind of a little bit more free-flowing with what they want to do, can I get you to walk for 45min throughout the day," he said.

Counting your steps can also be a way to measure distance. The average adult step is about 2.5 feet, meaning you would need to take 2,000 steps to reach one mile.

"Walking is probably one of the most underutilized and most accessible forms of exercise," said Quaderer.

For those getting started on their exercise journey, he suggests 6,000 steps a day or 30 minutes of activity. He would prefer clients work their way up to 10,000 steps when capable, as well as increase the length of their workout.

"It's easier to build a new habit if you tie it to an existing habit," Quaderer said. "I always challenge my clients who want to do more time-based, can you go for three 10-minute walks after you eat?" 

That means a 10-minute walk after breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

On top of aerobic activity, it is recommended that adults do at least two days of muscle-strengthening exercises per week.

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