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Watch your step! Stylish activity trackers that help you walk your way to fitness

Achieving a daily target of 10,000 steps may seem a tall order for office workers, but by changing a few routines – and with help from your device – anything is possible

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 May, 2018, 9:30am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 May, 2018, 9:30am

Hong Kong might be a nation of walkers – topping a 2017 global study by Stanford University – but for desk-bound office workers, reaching the daily target of 10,000 might seem a stretch at times.

But who came up with that prescription, anyway? Turns out it stems from a decades-old Japanese campaign to promote an early pedometer.

The device was released in the run-up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, with manpo-kei, which means 10,000 steps meter in Japanese, as its marketing slogan. It was a nice, round number, and the device became popular with Japanese walking groups.

The concept of 10,000 steps then caught on globally, even as more sophisticated fitness trackers came on the scene. While debate continues on the value of step counting in terms of overall fitness, numerous health bodies, including the World Health Organisation, now recommend 10,000 steps a day as a goal for improving health and reducing risk of disease. In Hong Kong, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department recommends a target of 8,000 to 10,000 steps.

Yet, despite topping Stanford’s ranking, Hongkongers still only manage an average of 6,880 steps per day. Indeed, exercise physiologist Stephanie Cuvelier, who sets her clients a daily step target to begin their training programme, says many are surprised to discover how little they actually move.

Global study on walking puts Hong Kong a step ahead

“Office workers can tend to exist in a bubble – even going out to get their lunch may involve only 200 steps,” says Cuvelier, the founder of Calibrate By Stephanie.

Although she trains others for a living, Cuvelier still sets herself a daily step target, 15,000 steps, as she finds it’s a great motivator. Incorporating walking into one’s daily routine is also one solution for people who say they “don’t have time to exercise”, she adds.

Walking outdoors offers particular enjoyment to Cuvelier, who has represented Hong Kong in rugby sevens and netball.

“Working in Central, I try to walk up The Peak every day, as I find walking among trees so calming,” she says, recommending a route that starts at Albany Road and continues along Old Peak Road.

For those who prefer flatter ground, a walk along the Central ferry piers promenade rewards with fresh air and exercise by the water. Another favourite is the Bowen trail, a 4km route in Mid-Levels. “You can easily rack up rack up 6,000 steps just on that trail,” she says.

Cuvelier’s top tip for boosting step count is to make work breaks matter.

“On a coffee break, don’t be tempted to just go next door, but venture to one of the coffee shops further away,” she says. “At lunchtime, find new places further out that you’d like to try. Before you know it, you’ll be walking to Admiralty.”

If you’ve errands to run, or meetings to attend, space them out throughout the day so the step count increases. “This might seem disorganised, but you’ll actually feel better because it gets you moving,” says Cuvelier.

Another tip is to get your steps in early. Leaving targets till the end of the day risks the temptation to “catch up tomorrow”.

Office workers can tend to exist in a bubble – even going out to get their lunch may involve only 200 steps
Stephanie Cuvelier, founder of Calibrate By Stephanie

And, finally, don’t be afraid to surpass your goal. “10,000 is not the only number,” Cuvelier says.

Not everyone agrees that walking alone constitutes enough physical activity to counter a largely sedentary lifestyle, or that fitness trackers actually make anyone healthier. But setting a step target is surely a good start.

Smartphones can do the job for you, with tracking software either built-in, as with Apple’s iPhone, or in pedometer apps such as MapMyWalk – now upgradeable to a host of other features such as heart rate analysis, audio coaching and personal training plans – the fully-featured MotionX GPS, or a more basic Pedometer++.

But dedicated fitness trackers remain a highly popular wearable, whose style and sophistication seem to only improve with every incarnation. This year, they have morphed into smartwatches offering more functionality than ever.

The newly released Fitbit Versa is an intuitive smartwatch with health and fitness features such as 24/7 heart rate tracking, on-screen workouts, automatic sleep stages tracking and on-device music. Wallet-free payment is offered on Fitbit Versa Special Edition, while a new feature tracking women’s health will follow in spring.

Billed as an affordable and lightweight smartwatch, Versa’s ultra-thin, anodised aluminium case is slightly tapered and angled in its design to fit small or large wrists. The rounded square silhouette display has a bright and colourful touch screen providing data at a glance.

Garmin has also integrated music with its Forerunner 645 Music, a GPS running watch/fitness tracker launched this year. With this model, the sporty style of the Forerunner line gets a sophisticated makeover courtesy of a metal bezel, chemically strengthened glass and interchangeable bands. On-device music storage has capacity for up to 500 songs, giving users (so the brand says) “an extra pep in their step”.

The new Nokia Steel HR activity-tracking watch goes beyond tracking steps by providing users with a more detailed look into their overall health and fitness performance, wrapped up in stylish, French-inspired design. Key to its function is a technology called photoplethysmography (PPG), which monitors heart rate using green LED lights to detect variation in the level of blood in the wrist. Nokia Steel HR’s heart rate algorithm has been developed to provide accurate measurements, especially during workouts when it’s used most.

And with the Apple rumour mill rife with speculation that the world’s bestselling smartwatch will have a major design overhaul later this year (likely launch in September, alongside the latest iPhone, according to industry speculation) the competition is heating up for stepping out in style.