Exercise Time Counts Beyond 10,000 Steps
Your step count on your Fitbit is one indicator you are active, but the active minutes measurement tells you whether you are getting enough of the right kind of activity to reduce your health risks and build fitness. Whether you use a Fitbit or another activity monitor that registers active minutes, it’s time to pay attention to that figure and make it part of your daily activity goal.
How Many Active Minutes You Need
Fitbit has a default goal of 30 active minutes per day.
You can set that goal to be higher or lower. The goal is based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the amount of exercise known to reduce health risks.
Active minutes are registered when you are meeting the CDC’s goals for moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise. The CDC is one of many health authorities that says you need at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. These exercise minutes need to be accomplished in bouts of at least 10 minutes and should be spread throughout the week.
More is better, with 300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise being shown to have additional health benefits. If you have successfully lost weight, the CDC notes that people who keep it off usually log 60 to 90 minutes a day of moderate-intensity physical activity.
What Fitbit Active Minutes Mean
The active minutes measurement tells you when you have spent at least 10 minutes in an activity that burns three times as many calories as you do at rest. When you are at rest, your metabolic equivalents (MET) equal 1. Fitbit uses a level of 3 MET or higher to indicate moderate-intensity exercise.
At the 3 MET level, you would be walking briskly or engaging in other exercises that raise your heart rate enough so you are breathing noticeably heavier than usual. Fitbit also uses the 6 MET level to indicate vigorous-intensity exercise.
Other activity monitors such as the Apple Watch also detect and track exercise minutes or active minutes. They may vary in their definitions and terminology. For example, Garmin uses the term intensity minutes. Some fitness monitors, such as Polar models, give you separate estimates of moderate-intensity minutes and vigorous-intensity minutes.
Moderate-intensity exercises include brisk walking, easy jogging, elliptical trainer, leisurely swimming, water aerobics, cycling at less than 10 mph, ballroom or line dancing, and gardening. Vigorous-intensity exercises include running, walking uphill, cycling at over 10 mph, swimming fast, lap swimming, fast or aerobic dancing, sports with lots of running (such as soccer, hockey, basketball, singles tennis), and heavy gardening.
Measuring Active Minutes
Fitbits and other advanced activity monitors and pedometers can sense not only the steps you take but also your cadence to tell whether you are moving faster than an easy walking pace.
The American College of Sports Medicine notes that a cadence of 100 steps per minute is a good indication that you are achieving a brisk walking pace and getting moderately-intense exercise.
You won’t register active minutes until you are walking at a brisk pace. This is estimated for you by Fitbit’s programming. It assumes a certain cadence indicates you are exerting yourself enough at moderate intensity or above.
Some models also have wrist-based heart rate detection and they use that measurement to determine whether you are at the heart rate needed for moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise.
This can be more accurate than cadence if you achieve moderate exertion at a slower pace. If you are walking uphill or using incline on a treadmill it is likely that your heart rate is raised even at a slower pace.
Some Fitbit activity monitors automatically detect different types of exercise and assign them MET levels accordingly. The SmartTrack feature detects the difference between walking, running, outdoor biking, elliptical, and swimming. The device will register a workout in those categories.
You can also log an exercise session manually with the “Track Exercise” function on the Fitbit app or online dashboard. If it meets the requirements, the minutes will be added to the active minutes total. This is useful for activities that don’t consistently measure steps, such as using an elliptical trainer or cycling.
When 10,000 Steps per Day Isn’t Enough
Simply reaching a goal of 10,000 steps per day doesn’t ensure that you have done 10 continuous minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise. You may be moving quite a bit during the day but always at an easy pace that doesn’t raise your heart rate sufficiently. While you are far from sedentary, you are aren’t getting the benefits of exercising at the level shown to reduce your health risks.
This is why it is good to check your active minutes measurement. Perhaps you are walking at an easy pace. Or, you may be walking briskly, but you have pauses before you reach 10 continuous minutes. That will result in losing those active minutes.
If you are using a pedometer or activity monitor that doesn’t register active minutes, you will need to be more diligent in recording your exercise sessions and ensuring you are at a heart rate or pace that should be counted as active minutes.
Checking Your Active Minutes Graph
To see whether you’ve met the guideline of an average of 30 active minutes per day, you can review past days, weeks, and months on most activity monitor apps or online dashboards. This can help you see the progress you have made and motivate you to make the goal consistently.
To see when you achieved Fitbit active minutes, you can tap on the active minutes tile on the app or select it on the online dashboard. Then tap on the day to see a graph of when active minutes were registered during every 15 minutes of the day. You can review past days, weeks, months, quarters, and years.
Some activity monitors, such as Polar models, show whether you achieved moderate intensity or vigorous intensity during your active minutes. This allows you to reach your exercise goal with fewer minutes if you do some at vigorous intensity. The Jawbone app color codes your active minutes to show their intensity.
Benefits of Achieving Your Active Minutes Goal
By achieving your weekly active minutes goal, the CDC indicates many health benefits.
- You will significantly reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. You may also improve your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- You will reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome and developing type 2 diabetes. If have type 2 diabetes, you may improve your blood sugar control.
- You lower your risk of colon cancer and breast cancer and research suggests you may lower your risk of endometrial and lung cancer. Exercise also helps cancer survivors have a better quality of life.
- If you have arthritis in your joints, low-impact moderately-intense exercise at this level will help you maintain function and manage pain.
- You can improve your moods, reduce the risk of depression, and sleep better.
- You increase your chances of living longer.
A Word From Verywell
Getting any amount of physical activity is beneficial, if only to reduce the time you spend sitting and inactive. Research suggests that you also need to break up periods of sitting to reduce your health risks. But you will get even more health benefits it you also achieve the active minutes goal.
Try to achieve a bout of at least 10 minutes of activity that gets you breathing heavier and your heart pumping. This can be a brisk walk during your work break or lunch. Build your time steadily or increase your bouts so you get 30 minutes per day or more.
Current Physical Activity Guidelines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Garber CE, Blissmer B, Deschenes MR, et al. Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2011;43(7):1334-1359. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e318213fefb.
Keeping It Off Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Benefits of Physical Activity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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