Setting Good Activity Goals

Today we’re continuing our segment on technology and our efforts to be less sedentary. In trying to be more physically active, it’s often most effective to set goals and work towards them each day. Goals can be individual ones or benchmarks for groups of friends or family members. But how do we set goals that work best for us?


A popular goal for daily physical activity is 10,000 steps per day. It’s become a catchphrase for the makers of exercise gadgets and wearable technology, but the number “10K a day” is not one that has a lot of scientific research behind it. In fact, a recent New York Times article says that a better goal might be 15,000 steps per day. Studies that arrive at approximate numbers like these often look at certain populations at a time - the study described in this article looked at postal-service walkers, many of whom were older and walked a lot each day. Also, the benefits of this sort of exercise look at health conditions that often do not manifest themselves until later in life (e.g. risk of heart disease).


Universal goals like these numbers only offer a simplistic approach to quantifying adequate exercise. (15,000 steps a day is apparently the equivalent of walking briskly for two hours at a 4mph pace.) What does this number mean for children who often need to be very active, but also must spend hours sitting at school each day in class? And even among children, different individuals have different needs or circumstances that might make walking 15, 000 a day a tricky goal.


Future research could have real potential for impact if it looks at what ideal exercise for children looks like. Federal guidelines already recommend brisk activity nearly every day for young children, but since many children and teenagers are eager to take advantage of new technology to monitor their activity, researchers should investigate what activity levels are ideal and safe for these users.