A few months ago, I spoke with Shape.com about a phenomenon they dubbed “streaking.” Streaking refers to performing a specific health-related behavior every day for a certain period of time (a week, a month, a year). As an example, Runner’s World facilitates season-based run streaks including social media posts and badges that can be shared on one’s profile. I’ve also seen people commit to some type of exercise every day for a month, often during January or February when New Year’s resolutions abound.
I have mixed feelings about streaking as a way to create a healthy habit, which I think comes through in the Shape piece. On the one hand, doing something on a daily basis makes it feel like a natural part of your routine:
“Not only does streaking teach you how to fit a behavior into your schedule and lifestyle, but the more you do something, the more natural it feels,” explains Bucher. So if you commit to a month-long running streak, your daily run will start to feel like part of your personality. And if you eventually skip a day, you’ll feel off—encouraging you to get right back on the road the following day.
However, there are negatives. One that has kept me personally from ever pursuing a run streak is a physical and mental need for recovery days, particularly when training for something like a marathon or even a half marathon:
“If you are streaking with an intense activity—like running every day—you might not be allowing your body the time it needs to recover,” says Bucher. Even non-physical goals can require a break. Say you’ve committed to a social streak, like seeing or calling at least one friend every day. You might find that you need some solo time, or you’ll wind up feeling tense, preoccupied, and resentful. Listen to your body and your mind. If you’re screaming for a rest, take it.
That’s why my very first streak ever was a month of meeting my goal of 10,000 daily steps on my Fitbit. I tend to be very good about moving during the day, but would often have at least one day a week where I fell short. On July 4th, I only got 4000 steps–very low for me. I decided then that I would try to improve and meet my step goal every single day. Walking is not onerous on the body the way other workouts might be, but the step goal also takes account of running if I do that as exercise. A step goal streak also serves other goals like helping remind me to move frequently during the work day and prompting me to explore the city more.
After my July 4th low, I wasn’t instantly successful. I had a couple of 8000-9000 step days, usually when I was traveling for work. In fact, July 5th was one of those days (instant failure!). But with some attention, I was able to begin more consistently meeting my step goal. On my last work trip, I walked laps of the airport terminal waiting for my flight home instead of sitting at the gate area, and made my step goal for the day. On a lazy Sunday, I decided to do an easy 3 mile run instead of lounging on the sofa. And in general, I am being more conscious of running errands on foot and walking through the office when I have a break between meetings or emails.
The end result is that on August 15, I hit a one-month streak of meeting my 10,000 step per day goal! Woohoo!
Will I keep working on my streak? Maybe. I want to maintain awareness of my daily movement and maximize it, but I also don’t want to get hung up on a number. In the short term, my foray into streaking was a helpful tool to kick start more consistency into my habits.
One surprise from all this? Fitbit doesn’t seem to award badges for streaks, only for cumulative steps taken/fights of stairs climbed/miles walked. This seems like a missed opportunity to me, but that’s a topic for another day.