3 weeks of step count data — what did it tell me?

This is a guest post by Tim Hanrahan, Editor-In-Chief at Gowhere Hip Hop.

step count data
The view from one of my hikes in the Bay Area.

Last week, I took a look at my step count data attending the Lollapalooza music festival earlier this month. This inspired me to go back even further in my data to my 3-week nomadic trip to San Francisco this June/July.

I set out to the Bay to attend the annual Quantifed Self Conference and had the intention to stay out there and work remotely for as long as I could be away from home. I also set a daily intention to explore new neighborhoods, tourist attractions, and the many outdoor activities the Bay has to offer, especially being it was my first visit to the area.

Naturally, I knew I would be much more active walking around San Francisco than I am currently — commuting by car or simply not leaving home to work. I wanted to see how much more active I would be in a new environment and establish a new daily routine going forward.

I was also hoping that as a result from this trip, I would be able to test an upper limit of what I can physically endure in a day. To set my ceiling, I went on two hikes and compared the data below between those days and my “normal”, primarily pedestrian work day. I’ll explain more as we go…

 

The Hikes

First, here is a line graph that charts my total amount of steps across the 3 weeks, using the Moves app. As one might assume, my 2 highest step counts were the 2 days I went on hikes.

step count data

The 2 hikes I went on were very different, yet equally exhausting. The first was through Muir Woods, up, then back down a mountain that lasted for over 4 hours and accumulated 9.5 miles.

step count data
My first hike (and all-time record of steps!) up the mountain trails at Muir Woods.

The next weekend, I walked an even 9 miles mainly exploring the Marin Headlands and walking from there to the Bonita Point Lighthouse. This was not nearly as steep compared to the more traditional hike I had 6 days before, but my friends and I were able to explore more land this time during a relatively equal 4+ hour period.

step count data
My second hike: covering the cliffs, viewpoints, and beaches at Marin.

For me, these hikes, and this trip in general, were my first experience at really tracking and analyzing my physical activity. I knew that to improve my daily goals I had to test my limits. In the couple of months since, the record of June 21st still stands as my ceiling. I know I can pass it one day, but this number still acts as an inspiration that I can handle and reach that Fitbit magic number of 10,000 steps a day during a normal work week.

 

The Non-Hike Days

Using my data above, I calculated the average amount of steps I took per day, excluding the two days I went on hikes.

Over 18 non-hike days, I averaged 7,625 steps/day.

It fell short of my 10K/day goal, but I still have my head held high.

One of the biggest factors that skewed my average down was a 4-day extended recovery from not just the hike, but the start of my trip June 17-20 that included active days at the QS conference. I stayed dormant, worked from my friend’s place, and relied on BART or my buddy’s car to get around the city when otherwise during the trip I would walk. I enjoyed unwinding, but just fell comfortable into it for 2 days too long.

Furthermore, when I’m home, I’m more able to properly excercise. As you all know when you travel, one of the hurdles sometimes is finding a gym, treadmill, or even simply the time to go out for a run, bike ride, what have you. My main form of cardio is even harder to accomplish on the road: playing basketball.

Throughout the 3 weeks, I only found one day to play basketball: July 4th, pictured below, and that was not the full court pickup games I usually play in 2-3 times a week. My friend and I just shot around in the 80 degree heat for about an hour. I immediately noticed I didn’t have the same wind or leg strength after 2 weeks of not touching a basketball.

step count data
The one day I played basketball on my trip. I was able to separately analyze the steps taken while playing basketball in the right column.

 

Takeaways

Once I got settled in San Francisco, I figured a couple of things would happen for the last couple weeks of my trip that ultimately did not:

1. I would find more time to play basketball and not drop off my cardio too much.

2. The amount of walking would compensate for my normal cardio.

I dissected the latter takeaway and concluded that overall, I wasn’t as active as I thought I was. My active days inflated my perception, but I was brought back down to earth when I felt so out of shape after just 2 weeks of not playing basketball.

In fact, one other quantified result from the trip that proved this was a 5 pound weight gain. I felt I had been more active in San Francisco, and looking at the high step counts on my most active days contributed to that sense of security. But I didn’t realize it until it was too late: I just didn’t make enough time for cardio. I figured that with all the walking I did, plus Pilates 2-3 days a week from home, it would be enough to maintain. It wasn’t, but I didn’t feel I dug myself into an insurmountable hole either.

Looking at it positively though, I found I really enjoyed hiking and just walking more in general throughout the work week. I would take breaks and seek out a new destination for work, meetings, a tourist spot, food, etc. throughout San Francisco. Those days in the city were ones that increased the 7.5K average.

Overall, my trip helped me determine that this is the routine I would like to establish, given my current, remote work situation. The goals are now to hit my 7.5K average from just walking during the work hours, and then reach 10K through nighttime exercise. On the few nights a week I play basketball, 12.5K steps total is a more challenging goal. Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to really hike around flatland Chicago (my current home) but that’s where the basketball steps in.

Up next: Streamlining my data tracking and creating even better graphs to visualize my activity. I had to manually input data and create the graph above, when I could have been doing this automatically with this all-new DIY Tracker on QuantXLaFont.com. It’s a free download, with optional personalized coaching, to start to track your own version of either my experiment above or something like weight tracking or measuring your blood glucose levels.

If you enjoyed my story here, you can use this tool and start your own story too. Check it out and let us know what you think: @QuantSelfLafont.

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