Why Counting Steps Might Be Detrimental to Your Health
The moment I realized my “stepsession” was negatively impacting my life
For most of my life I have not been concerned with how many steps I took during a day. I would always aim for 10,000 but never really cared if I fell short a few days out of the week. I use a Garmin watch to track my workouts and the fact that it acted as a pedometer was just an added bonus. At the gym I would often do forms of cardio such as biking or swimming (mostly step free activities) coupled with 30–45 minutes of weight lifting. I knew I was busting my ass in my workouts so I was okay with the fact that I didn’t always hit my step goal.
March came along and we get hit with a global pandemic. Gyms everywhere close down and lifting weights for many (including myself) becomes impossible. In a blind panic about not being able to go the gym I compensated by controlling (and greatly increasing) the number of steps I took per day. I upped my step goal to 15,000 a day, but would often exceed that, getting in around 17,000–20,000. While walking an amazing way to burn calories (without spiking appetite or being too damaging to your joints), feeling anxiety spikes when I didn’t think I was going to be able to hit my step goal was excessive to day the least.
At this point I had started working from home so I was naturally moving a lot less than I would in an office environment. Because I was basically sedentary for 8 hours of the day I really had to kick it into gear to get in my 15,000. My days started to follow a specific routine.
I would go for a walk first thing in the morning, getting in around 3,000–4,000 steps. When I came back I would set up at my janky standing desk (a few cardboard boxes stacked on top of each other). For the next few hours, I would try to pace in place as much as I could. Any calls I had, I would take as I walked around my house. Before I ate lunch, I would go on another stroll around the neighborhood (~2,000 steps) before returning to my standing desk. All together, I would end up with around 7,000–8,000 steps by the time I clocked out. As the evening rolled around I would get my first official “workout” in by either 1) going for a 3–4 mile run, 2) doing a body weight circuit, or 3) jumping rope for 30 minutes.
I did this pretty consistently for a few months (only missing four days in four months) before I realized that I was unhealthily obsessed with hitting, and surpassing, my step goal. My every waking thought seemed to be centered around getting my steps in. My feet hurt constantly and my legs felt heavy whenever I exercised. The moment I realized my obsession with step count was actually detrimental to my health (both metal and physical) was when I found myself pacing around my room at 11:45 at night because I wanted to get in a few hundred steps before going to sleep, even though I knew I needed to go to bed. This is unhealthy, boarder lining on exercise obsession. I knew my mindset had to change.
Don’t think that being concerned with your step count is inherently unhealthy. For the average person, trying to take 10,000 steps a day is a good way of reminding yourself to move. The majority of Americans live sedentary lifestyles, so counting steps can be and extremely beneficial tool in living a healthy lifestyle. But, if you’re like me, passing on hanging out with family so you can go for a walk, worrying about hitting your step goal until the moment you do, and prioritizing being on your feet instead of taking a much needed rest day, it may be time to admit that you’re “stepsessed” in an unhealthy way.
In the past few weeks, I have started the process of changing my mindset and perspective when it comes to how many steps I take a day. My goal is still set to 15,000, but I’m not going overboard like I used to and like to give my feet and legs a break at least once a week. I know that I still have work to do and I’m continuing to remind myself that taking a rest day doesn’t equate to laziness.
While being obsessed with step count certainly isn’t the worst thing in the world, it can be a gateway into an eating disorder or harmful exercise obsession. Just know that you’re not alone if you’re someone who has also struggled with this.
Follow me on Twitter and stay tuned for some more tips and tricks to living your best and healthiest lifestyle (or at least trying to).
Until next time,