Why Your Fitbit Active Minutes Mean More Than Your 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 your 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 equivalents (MET) equal 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. The 6 MET level indicates vigorous-intensity exercise.

Moderate-intensity exercises include:

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

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 that can be set 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.

Active minutes are registered when you are meeting the CDC's goals for moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise.

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.

Benefits of Reaching Your Goal

There are many health benefits to achieving your weekly active minutes goal, according to the CDC.

  • You will significantly reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. You may also improve your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • You will reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome and developing type 2 diabetes. If you have type 2 diabetes, you may improve your blood sugar control.
  • You lower your risk of colon cancer and breast cancer, and research suggests you may lower your risk of endometrial and lung cancer. Exercise also helps cancer survivors have a better quality of life.
  • If you have arthritis in your joints, low-impact, moderately-intense exercise at this level will help you maintain function and manage pain.
  • You can improve your moods, reduce the risk of depression, and sleep better.
  • You increase your chances of living longer.

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 moderately-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.

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 10 continuous 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 and ensuring you are at a heart rate or pace that should be counted as active minutes.

A Word From Verywell

Getting any amount of physical activity is beneficial if only to reduce the time you spend sitting and inactive. Research suggests that you also 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 about 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 bouts so you get 30 minutes per day or more.

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