How Many Steps?

Some people walk for fitness, counting their steps to be sure they meet a daily quota. My friend Robin tells me she walks 6000 steps per day. A retired friend with a dog that always wants to be outside walks 20,000.

The simplest ways to know how many steps you’ve taken on your walk are to count and to use a pedometer. If you follow the same route every day, and if your walking style does not change much from day to day, then you should get in about the same number of steps every day, so you need to count them only once.

But that’s a lot of ifs. What if you find yourself taking a digression from your usual path and you have no pedometer? How can you know you’re getting all your steps in?

The Problem

Let’s say you walk the same route going out and coming back. Today you’re curious about what you’ll see if you take a path that bears right. Your usual steps are 6000: 3000 until you get  to your usual endpoint, an unusual tree that you recognize, and then 3000 back along the same route. You’re counting your steps from the beginning and you know you’ll get your 6000 on your digression if you turn around and retrace your steps after you hit 3000.

But you hit the end of the road before you hit 3000. You didn’t notice your count at the intersection, only when you get to the end of the digression road. Let’s say it’s 2500 steps. What to do?

How to Approach It

It only makes sense to go back to the turn and then continue on your usual route to make up the steps you missed.

How far do you go?

If you just walked straight home from the end of the digression, you would walk 2 * 2500 steps = 5000 steps. So to get your total 6000 steps, you need another 1000. To make that up when you get back to the intersection with your usual route, walk in the direction away from home.

How far? You need to make up 1000 steps. You’re going to walk this stretch twice: going out and coming back. So the distance you continue on your usual walk is half of the 1000 steps you have to make up: 500 steps.


You have digressed from your usual route and you are forced to turn back before you reach half your step quota. How do make sure you get all your steps in?

  1. Make note of the number of steps you’ve walked.
  2. Double that number.
  3. Subtract that result from your step quota.
  4. Divide that result in half.
  5. Walk back to the point where you digressed and then walk the number of steps you found in the last step above away from your starting/ending point.
  6. Turn around and head home. You should get there just about when you meet your quota.

This is interesting: If you know the total steps you took when you hit the dead end, you can calculate the extra steps you need without knowing how far you went before you took the turn onto a new route. But this works only if your usual route has you walking home along the same route you walked away from home. If you walk home by a different route it’s more complicated.