By: Stephan Teodosescu
The British economist Charles Goodhart is credited with once saying “when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” For me being increasingly aware of my step count is a good example of this adage.
Another year has come to a close and I’ve noticed myself paying more attention to how many steps I’ve taken at the end of each day. I’m not a health freak but after being locked down in March of 2020 I started walking more as a form of exercise. Since then I seemingly check my smartwatch’s step count every day, and while I admittedly game the system by taking a few extra steps here and there just to reach a certain threshold, walking has improved my overall lifestyle.
And being a nerd I was interested in visualizing this treasure trove of data sitting on my wrist1. Here’s what I found.
- Data can be downloaded from the Health app on your phone.
- I averaged 10,800 steps per day in calendar year 2021 vs 9,800 in 2020.
- Highest average month was November, where I averaged just over 15,000 steps per day
- The lowest month was January with an average of around 6,000 steps.
- The day of the week with the highest average was Saturday. I took way more steps on the weekends than weekdays in general.
- Tuesday was the weakest day averaging around 8,000 steps.
- My highest one day total was August 7th where I reached nearly 33,000 steps. That was followed by September 11th, November 11th and November 20th which all broke the 30,000 step threshold.
- The lowest one day total was January 7th where I managed a meager 1,700 steps. It must have been a blizzard outside.
First, I looked at average steps per day on a monthly basis2. In a surprising twist November 2021 was the month in which I averaged the most amount of steps. On the whole I found winter months are the ones with lowest step counts, but November was an outlier (more on that below). You can also see a steady increase as the weather starts to warm in the spring, a bit of a dip in the dog days of summer and another uptick when the weather is pleasant in the fall.
This past year I spent quite a bit of time with my family in Chicago. While I live and work in the San Francisco bay area, I’ve been working from home since early 2020 and have been fortunate to spend so much time with them in the Midwest. It also means my step counts were heavily influenced by Chicago’s unhinged weather.
Looking at this broken down by month and day of week we get the above table. You can pinpoint how I walked more on weekends than weekdays in 2021. I even averaged more than 20,000 steps per day on Thursdays in November. That number is heavily influenced by a couple 25,000-plus days in that month.
A big reason for that was a trip to Bandon Dunes golf resort in Oregon in the middle of the month. Bandon is a bucket list destination for golf enthusiasts, notorious for its Scottish-style links golfing which prohibits you from using a golf cart out on the courses (if you’re able). So you have to walk your bag — and my game is naturally inclined to adding extra steps anyways as I search for many lost balls. In our November 11th round my friends and I walked 36 holes, and even sprinted the final two as we tried to beat the darkness on one of the shortest days of the year.
Below you can see the what the shape of the distribution of my steps on a day-of-the-week basis looked like. In the early part of the week — Mondays and Tuesdays — the amount of steps I took followed a classic bell curve, whereas weekend days really varied in terms of overall volume. This makes sense as my weekday activity was pretty predictable given I was planted at my desk working at home.
When comparing to 2020 I took more steps in 2021. The shape of the yearly curves look different too. 2020 started with a decline in step counts that was exacerbated during the initial lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic. The remainder of the year from the summer on through winter was relatively steady as my lifestyle didn’t vary much during those uncertain times.
The following year was much more erratic, and punctuated by a couple trips where I did plenty of hiking and aforementioned golfing that elevated my total steps. Overall, I averaged 10,700 steps in 2021 compared to 9,700 the year prior.
In summary, the past two years represent unprecedented times for many people. I’m lucky that my lifestyle and livelihood haven’t been as negatively impacted as those who are less fortunate. For me I’ve made a conscious effort to walk more, which I’ve enjoyed more than I ever could have imagined.
If you need me I’ll be the guy strolling through the city in his comfortable athleisure listening to a podcast as he tries to top 15,000 steps per day this year.
- I’ll be writing a follow up post detailing how I got the data and how to create the plots you see here. I had to make a few adjustments to the amounts I calculated as the exported data did not perfectly match up with what I found directly on my smartphone. Thus, all the step counts you see in this post are rounded to account for any measurement error observed. More on that in the follow up post.
- Code for the above graphics can be found on my GitHub.