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Does Pacing Count Toward My Daily Steps?

It would be really great if my nervous energy could be used for something worthwhile

We live in a world where seemingly everyone is trying to get their steps in. But do these steps need to be so intentional? Can they just be, well, steps — no running or pre-planned walking required? Namely, does pacing back and forth across a room — whether out of anxiety or excitement — count toward such steps? After all, people were burning calories and getting in shape long before there was such a thing as structured physical training.

So out with it already — does pacing count as steps?

Do you really think your Fitbit discriminates between steps taken for leisure, steps intended as exercise and steps spawned by a swell of nervous energy? I’m afraid your Fitbit isn’t all that bright, and it certainly isn’t psychically empowered to discern your intentions. All the Fitbit is there to accomplish is to assess steps taken and estimate calories burned. That’s it

So whether you walk one mile in a straight line on the pavement, or one mile in a circle and clean through the carpeting on the floor of your study, it still gets tallied as one mile walked.

But is that even real cardio?

Pacing in a small room or any other enclosed space isn’t exactly a practical way to generate momentum, and walls and furniture tend to impede progress substantially. All of which can make it hard to build up a head of steam and maintain the sort of speed that can elevate your heart rate or heighten muscle endurance. 

In other words, it’s safe to say that the low-exertion steps you’ve taken — either in a straight line, in a circle or in some other pattern that doesn’t facilitate speed — are going to rank very low on the spectrum of the calories that can be burned by cardio. 

Does this mean it’s valueless?

Not only is it not valueless, but it’s best thought of with respect to the full range of all other potential activities you could be engaged in. Almost everything you do in life has a metabolic equivalent of task score assigned to it, and all of those ratings are stored in the Compendium of Physical Activities. The scores run the gamut from activities like lying still and watching television, which is awarded a score of 1.0, all the way up to running at the pace of a world-class athlete, which stretches to a 23. 

Almost anything else that might be imaginable falls somewhere in between. Sitting and fidgeting your feet fetches a score of 1.8, which doesn’t sound like much, but it’s nearly twice as productive as lying completely motionless. Once you delve specifically into the category of walking, you can see that walking for social reasons — e.g., walking to a friend’s house — will provide you with a MET score of 2.5, while walking for pleasure can reach as high as 3.5. 

I don’t know if you’re a vigorous pacer, or you’re just a lackadaisical ambler, but no matter how casual your cogitative pacing may be, it’s doing far more to boost your metabolism and burn calories than doing nothing ever could.

Does that mean literally anything can count as exercise as long as my body is moving in some form or fashion?

See? Not everything has to be about prescribed exercises on a dedicated medium, like an elliptical or a rower. If the sole goals are to get in steps and slowly but surely sizzle some calories, you can definitely move at your own pace.