5, Um, Creative Methods for Clocking in All My Steps During the Winter

Photo: Getty Images/Blasius Erlinger
Wearable fitness trackers may be good news for your health, but trust me when I say that step-counting changes you. I no longer leisurely stroll; now I mean business as I ascend—3409, 3410, 3411—all in an obsessive quest to hit my 10,000 step count benchmark OTD. And ironically, I use my iPhone to track my steps, which is hardly known for its accuracy. (In fact, one study found the iPhone undercounted by an average of 1,340 steps a day.) This means I work I'm trying to reach a number I can't even count on. Yet, loyal to the mission I remain, even in the face of seasonal frigid temps coaxing me away from my running shoes to tend to my running nose.

Well, good news for all wintertime hygge priorities: The science backing up that 10K-step gold standard is shaky at best. One study published in the International Journal of Obesity notes that to boost your metabolism, 15,000 steps is best to shoot for. And, um, I'm def not lacing up my snow boots and wrapping myself in a blarf for that, which, according to one doc, is A-okay—it's more important to make sure you're moving regularly. "If you really enjoy counting steps and utilize that metric to help prompt you to remain physically active, then go for it," says physician Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, MD. "However, if you have serious medical problems that hinder you from ambulating, you'll need to discuss with your doctor other exercise alternatives that may be more suitable for you.”

Fine, “I don't want to be outside in the cold” and “my blanket is cozier than a frigid walk in the park” don’t fall into the category of serious medical problems, but the thought of "exercise alternatives" does lead me reevaluate my need to step-count period. Because thanks to dead-of-winter cabin fever, I’ve started resorting to extreme (read: bizarre) behaviors in order to hit 10,000.

Check out 5 of the most desperate things I've done to hit 10,000 steps in the winter.

1. Getting really good at pacing the narrow strip between my kitchen and front door

Exercising in a tiny apartment requires creativity. So, no matter how messy my room is, there’s always a cleared radius where I can Hula-Hoop to the Go-Go’s.

2. Forcing myself to walk aimlessly around my apartment because I'm this close to getting to 10,000

These desperate moments have really taught me the value of 700 steps. (It doesn’t seem like a lot until you’re ping-ponging back and forth your living room at 11:54 p.m.)

3. Making Lord of the Rings–style journeys in every kind of nightmare weather

There was one below-freezing night when on my way home, I realized that my step count was a few thousand shy of my goal. The solution? “Oh, I’ll just do a few laps around Whole Foods. It’s only 10 minutes in the opposite direction. I’m the goddess of wellness, la la la.”

Um, maybe I’m the goddess of TERRIBLE DECISIONS, because after exploring that labyrinth of healthy food, I had to make a hefty trek on foot in freezing rain.

4. Walking down three flights of stairs to go to the bodega, only to realize I don’t have my phone, and then walking up three flights of stairs.

Note to self—invest in a wearable device. (And mentally throw on a few hundred steps to my iPhone's count of my movement for the day.)

5. Calculating exactly how many steps I need to finish off the day

I got really ticked off today trying to answer a CAPTCHA that had the nerve to ask what 7 minus 2 equals. Like, the nerve of requiring me to compute basic math to see a website screen. But when it comes to counting steps, I will go full Good Will Hunting.

Let’s see, I need at least 8,000 steps in once I get off the treadmill, because it’ll be about 2,000 steps to get to my apartment. Unless, I do a walk around the park, in which case I can get away with something like 7,852. If I walk through the park, which I like to do to clear my head, then I need 8,013 steps. And if I make a stop at the consignment shop, I can do a clean 7,775 and only be like, $25 short when inevitably buy a dress I don’t need.

Exhausting, right? And I haven't even taken any steps.

Still, there's an upside to the tracking: I’ve forced myself to become way more active in general. And zeroing in on that, rather than focusing on the “failure” of not hitting 10,000—during any season—is what I should try to do. “The main thing that is advisable is ensuring that some form of exercise is an integral component of your life,” Dr. Okeke-Igbokwe says.  The mental gymnastics required to calculate my step strategy isn't a form of exercise that satisfies this intent, but for the rest of the season, I may lay off the step obsession and add in some tiny-apartment-friendly squats and crunches.

If it's colder than this temperature, do not clock in your sweat sesh outside. But, before you hibernate all winter long, keep in mind that there are benefits to working out in the cold.

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