Why Fitbit Active Minutes Mean More Than Steps

Fitbit Active Minutes
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Your step count on your Fitbit may be one indicator of your activity, but the active minutes measurement will tell you if you're getting enough of the right kind of activity to reduce health risks and build fitness. Whether you use a Fitbit or another activity monitor that registers active minutes, here's how to use this information to help reach your daily activity goal.

What Are Active Minutes?

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 equivalent (MET) is 1. Fitbit uses a level of 3 MET or higher to indicate moderate-intensity exercise.

At the 3 MET level, you might be walking briskly or engaging in other exercises that raise your heart rate. Moderate-intensity exercises include:

  • Easy jogging
  • Elliptical trainer
  • Leisurely swimming
  • Water aerobics
  • Cycling at less than 10 mph
  • Ballroom or line dancing
  • Gardening

The 6 MET level indicates vigorous-intensity exercise. Vigorous-intensity exercises include:

  • Running
  • Walking uphill
  • Cycling at over 10 mph
  • Lap swimming
  • Fast or aerobic dancing
  • Sports that involve lots of running (such as soccer, hockey, basketball, singles tennis)
  • Heavy gardening

How Many Active Minutes You Need

Fitbit has a default goal of 30 active minutes per day (you can change the setting 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.

The CDC recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week.

These exercise minutes should be accomplished in bouts of at least 10 minutes and spread throughout the week. More can be better, with 300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise being shown to have additional health benefits.

When 10,000 Steps a Day Isn't Enough

Simply reaching a goal of 10,000 steps per day doesn't ensure that you have done 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise. You may be moving quite a bit during the day, but always at an easy pace. While you are far from sedentary, you are aren't getting the benefits of exercising at the level shown to reduce your health risks.

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. Track whether you are at a heart rate or pace that reaches moderate intensity, and for how long.

Benefits of Reaching Your Goal

There are many health benefits to achieving your weekly active minutes goal, according to the CDC. Regular exercise may help:

  • Reduce risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Improve blood pressure and cholesterol levels
  • Reduce risk of metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes
  • Improve blood sugar control in people with Type 2 diabetes
  • Reduce risk of cancers, including colon, breast, endometrial, and lung cancer
  • Improve quality of life for cancer survivors
  • Maintain joint function and manage arthritis pain
  • Improve mood and reduce risk of depression
  • Improve sleep better
  • Increase longevity

Measuring Active Minutes

Fitbits and other advanced activity monitors 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 (ACSM) notes that a cadence of 100 steps per minute is a good indication that you are achieving a brisk walking pace and getting moderate-intense exercise.

Some trackers also have wrist-based heart rate detection, which is used 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 if you are moving at a slower pace.

A Word From Verywell

Getting any amount of physical activity is beneficial, if only to reduce the time you spend sitting. Research suggests that you need to break up periods of sitting to reduce your health risks. But you will get even more health benefits if you also achieve the active minutes goal.

Try to achieve 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 time or your bouts so you get 30 minutes per day or more.

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