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 Fitbit active minutes are an even better indicator of daily activity than steps. Active minutes 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 Fitbit 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

Active Zone Minutes

Certain Fitbit devices measure Active Zone Minutes instead of active minutes, and there are a few key differences between the two. You don't have to spend 10 minutes in an activity for Active Zone Minutes to count like you would with active minutes. Instead, you earn one Active Zone Minute for each minute that your heart rate is in the fat burn zone (moderate-intensity exercise) and two Active Zone Minutes for each minute that you're in the cardio or peak zones (vigorous-intensity exercise).

How Fitbit Measures Active Minutes

Fitbits and other advanced activity monitors can sense your steps you and your cadence to tell whether you are moving faster than a leisurely 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. Heart rate can be a more accurate measurement than cadence if you achieve moderate exertion at a slower pace. If you are walking uphill or using incline on a treadmill, for example, it is likely that your heart rate is raised, even if you are moving at a slower pace.

Your Active Minutes Goal

Fitbit has a default goal of 30 active minutes per day (you can change the setting to be higher or lower) or 150 Active Zone Minutes per week (averaging 22 minutes daily). The goals are based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations for the amount of exercise known to reduce health risks: at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week.

You should spread these exercise minutes 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.

There are many health benefits to achieving your weekly active minutes goal, according to the CDC. Regular exercise reduces the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers; improves mood, sleep, and longevity; and maintains joint function.

10,000 Steps vs. 30+ Active Minutes

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 a leisurely pace. While you are far from sedentary, you aren't getting the benefits of exercising at the levels 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, tracking whether you are at a heart rate or pace that reaches moderate intensity and for how long.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does Fitbit track active minutes?

Fitbit uses your cadence or heart rate to determine if you spend 10 minutes or more in a moderate-intensity exercise to track active minutes.

How many active minutes should I get per day?

You should aim for at least 30 active minutes per day or about 22 Active Zone Minutes per day.

Why doesn’t weight training show up as active minutes on my Fitbit?

If your Fitbit doesn't measure heart rate, weight training may not show up as active minutes because it is a non-step-based activity.

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, such as 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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