Steps, Miles or Minutes? The Answer to How You Should Track Your Workout (2024)

Exercise is one of the best ways to improve your physical health. Those who exercise regularly can see benefits such as controlling weight, having a happier demeanor, possessing more energy, experiencing improved sleep, lowering blood pressure and more. Plus, thanks to the increased use of fitness trackers and workout apps, keeping data on your activity has never been easier. You can use these tools to track your exercise via minutes, miles or steps. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the benchmark for measurement continues to be exercise minutes.

But there are times when you may want to use other methods too.If you're new to tracking exercise, our guide breaks down the benefits of each type and will help you determine which you should use.

Benefits of tracking minutes

One way to measure your exercise is by tracking minutes. You can use minutes when performing brisk walks, swimming in a pool, cycling, conducting high-intensity interval trainingor running. If you're new to working out, HIIT involves fast-paced workouts like sprinting or biking quickly in short intervals with rest periods in between.

Tracking minutes is one of the most effective ways to measure how much exercise you receive. It's so vital that it's the method that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services uses for recommendations on physical activity.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children should do at least 60 minutes of aerobic activity three days a week. Meanwhile, adults should exercise at least 150 minutes per week. That amounts to two-and-a-half hours you can split into several brisk walks, jogs or bike rides.

The only limitation to measuring exercise minutes is that it doesn't account for low-impact exercises like more relaxing forms of yoga.

Read more: 8 Exercises Trainers Want You To Try to Meet Your Fitness Goals

Benefits of tracking steps

Another way to measure your progress is through tracking steps. In a 2019 study, Harvard Medical School found that those who did at least 7,500 daily steps reduced their risk of incurring an early death.

Measuring steps works best for walking, hiking, climbing or running. You can use a pedometer (a device that calculates how much distance someone covers on foot), a fitness activity tracking app, or a smartwatch to measure steps. Many smartphones also come with health features. Apple customers can use their fitness app to measure daily steps. You can also set daily goals and earn badges when you complete your objectives.

Smartwatches and wearable fitness trackers can provide an accounting of your steps in addition to other health metrics like your heart rate, while smartphones typically don't. The only drawback is you won't be able to measure steps for every type of exercise you do. Weight lifting and swimming, for instance, won't provide accurate step measurements with tracking apps because these types of workouts can't be measured in steps.

Benefits of tracking miles

The last way you can track exercise is through miles. Logging miles works best for distance-oriented exercises like hiking, skiing, swimming or biking.

The benefit of tracking miles is that it can help you identify patterns in your exercise routines. When you start working out, you won't have the endurance to run or swim far. Over time, you build up this endurance. Logging your exercise miles motivates you to stay the course, as you can see how much progress you've made over time.

Measuring miles won't be suitable for every exercise. Doing yoga or lifting weights might have endurance aspects to them. Yet, you won't be able to move enough to compile distance data that's useful or accurate. Instead, measure these exercises in minutes.

Also, don't focus on how far you can go when starting. Instead, focus on your form when you're running or biking. Practicing the correct form ensures your body receives the full benefit of the exercise so you can build endurance quicker while also practicing safer behaviors.

The best way to track your workouts

Tracking your workouts depends on the type of exercise, physical health and fitness goals. On the exercise end, logging miles is beneficial for high-endurance exercises like swimming, running or cycling. Not only can this help you see how much endurance you have, but it also allows you to chart your progress over time, which can motivate you on days when you don't feel like exercising.

Meanwhile, steps are beneficial for low-impact exercises where you're looking to improve your health. These activities include walking, hiking, stair climbing or cycling. You can also track exercise minutes for activities that don't involve much walking, such as yoga or weight lifting.

Board-certified physician's assistant Lily Grobman tells CNET, "Not every method of tracking exercise will be right for you. For instance, low-impact exercises such as Pilates or yoga will not raise the heart rate as much as running or swimming. Depending on the type of exercise you are doing, there may be a few different ways to keep track. Journaling and keeping a calendar always helps to stay organized."

Which tracking method is best for weight loss?

As you exercise more regularly, you'll want to chart your progress. There are several ways to do this. Grobman advises, "If you want to track weight loss by the number, manysmart scales have apps and portals attached. You also could use other methods such as MyFitnessPal, which helps you organize and log your diet in addition to weight and exercise."

Another practical way is to see how your clothes fit. When you exercise regularly, you will likely notice your body toning. Often, this means your pants won't feel as snug around your waistline, or you'll see more room in the legs. If you lift weights, you may notice other changes, such as shirts appearing tighter because you're gaining muscle mass in your chest and arms. Noticing these changes can indicate you're on the right track, depending on your fitness goals.

You can also measure your body fat percentage monthly. This can be a more accurate way to track your progress than a scale alone. Scales fail to take into account added weight from muscle mass, water weight or genetic components. A more accurate gauge of progress is the waist-to-hip ratio test.

To measure your waist-to-hip ratio, follow these steps:

1. Stand up straight and exhale.

2.Have someone use a tape measure to wrap it around the narrowest part of your waist, usually around your belly button.

3. Place the tape around the widest area of the hips.

4. Divide your measurements (hip by waist) to receive your ratio.

According to the World Health Organization, a waist-to-hip ratio above 0.90 for men and above 0.85 for women indicates abdominal obesity.

Steps, Miles or Minutes? The Answer to How You Should Track Your Workout (2)

How to keep track of your physical activity

Keeping track of your physical activity is vital, as it gives you a journal from which you can chart your progress. When considering how to track activity, Grobman recommends, "There are many different methods of tracking your workouts. These can range from apps like ClassPass, which helps you book fitness classes, or personal devices such as Apple watches or Fitbits that monitor your activity. These personal devices are helpful as they also track certain vitals and monitor activity over an extended time."

Charting your activity also has two other benefits. The first is when you speak with your doctor about exercise, you have data to show them. It can help them recommend other activities or make minor adjustments to your current workouts to maximize effectiveness.

Another benefit of keeping track of your physical activity is that it keeps you motivated. There will be days when you won't feel like you're making progress. On those days, access your fitness tracking information to see how much progress you've made. Just seeing the numbers and what you've accomplished to this point can help you keep on your exercise routine and motivate you to achieve more goals in the future.

Steps, Miles or Minutes? The Answer to How You Should Track Your Workout (2024)

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