How does Apple health calculate distance walked?


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Page last updated: 30/09/2022

How does Apple health calculate distance walked?

In this guide, we will talk about “How does Apple health calculate distance walked”, share the results from a recent study, how can you use the cycling distance on the app if shaking will also add to your step count and some additional things to consider in terms of settings. Additionally, we will talk about 4 of the most recommended apps for fitness walkers in 2020.

How does Apple health calculate distance walked?

If you wonder, ‘How does Apple Health calculate distance walked?’, you need to consider that your iPhone is capable of measuring both steps and distance separately. The distance is measured using GPS tracking and the step count uses the accelerometer, so it doesn’t need step length to find distance. 

As you may know already, the iPhone Health app collects data on activities for health purposes. When you walk, it records the number of steps taken and the distance you have travelled, storing it in a database together with the timestamps with a couple of minutes of difference. However, a study on the iPhone’s step tracker suggested it was pretty accurate but the distance measurement was shown to be less reliable.

As indicated by, “The smartphone’s distance measurement algorithm does not appear to account for the length of an individual’s strides, making it difficult to recommend for health applications”. Moreover, the recent study published in npc Digital Medicine suggests that the iPhone’s step count capabilities are sufficient enough to measure and monitor patients’ activity remotely. However, the device’s walking distance measurement algorithm seems inconsistent.

Results from the study showed…

“… the iPhone’s CoreMotion Pedometer to underestimate users’ steps by a mean of just 7.2 percent (± 13.8 percent), and demonstrated a mean percent difference of 5.7 percent (± 20.5 percent) when compared to an ActiGraph GT9X Activity Monitor. On the other hand, the iPhone pedometer’s algorithm to estimate distance walked overestimated user’s travel by 43 percent (± 42 percent), which the researchers attributed to its inaccurate application of users’ stride length”. But how did they measure it?

The researchers wanted to investigate if the Iphone’s pedometer was reliable enough to measure the blood flow of PAD patients and their ability to walk. A team of researchers at Stanford built a ResearchKit app that uses the iPhone’s pedometer to conduct six-minute walk tests. The sample consisted of 114 participants with PAD and they were asked to perform a monitored walking test while they used the app and carried the ActiGraph monitor. 

As you may know, pedometers have been used by Apple’s devices for a while now and some prior studies have suggested that it and other smartphone’s tools are sometimes more accurate than other fitness trackers. However, the feature in question was used in this study to investigate if it is viable to be used as a screening tool where precision is mandatory, but we know step count has been widely used by the fitness industry for wellness and health-related purposes. If you would like to know more details about the study, click here.

How does Apple health calculate distance walked?

How do you use the cycling distance on the Health app?

To use the cycling distance on the Health app Tap Health Data in the bottom menu. Go to Fitness and open Active Calories, Cycling Distance, or Running + Walking Distance. Enable the Show on Dashboard option in the detail screen to show this metric on your Dashboard.

Does shaking iPhone count steps?

Shaking your iPhone might make the built-in sensor hardware recognize this movement as walking. Pacer and other movement tracking apps use the sensor to count steps we can’t say for sure it is 100% accurate so it might add some extra steps to the count when it shouldn’t but researchers have suggested it is pretty accurate during step count.  

How can I turn my iPhone into a pedometer and distance tracker?

To turn your iPhone into a pedometer and distance tracker, follow these instructions:

  • Open Health app and go to the “Health Data” tab
  • Tap on “Fitness” and enable the three currently functional sections:
  • Select “Walking + Running Distance” and flip the switch for “Show On Dashboard” to the ON position
  • Choose “Steps” and toggle “Show On Dashboard” to ON
  • Go to “Flights Climbed” and flip the same “Show On Dashboard” to ON
  • Tap back to the “Dashboard” tab in Health app to see the three functions and their respective charts

As soon as the pedometer and distance movement tracker is enabled, you just need to start moving to see how the information gets updated. The steps feature is believed to be quite accurate as long as you always have your phone with you, in your pocket, hand or a backpack. However, the mileage walking + running distance tracker is also apparently accurate but the experience of many users under certain circumstances seem to indicate the opposite.

Step count, walking distance and flights climbed

To view the step count, walking distance and flights climbed, open the app and scroll past the first few sections. Next, tap on the ‘Health’ option and open the settings menu. Then, tap on ‘Data Access and Devices’ and find your iPhone under ‘Devices’. If you have other Apple devices, such as an iPod or Apple Watch, or you may have had them in the past, they will appear in this list.

Select your device by tapping on it and you will see all the Health activity data your device has recorded such as Walking, Running distance, flights climbed, steps and Headphone Audio Levels. If you tap on any of them, you will find more about the activity, date, time, source, etc. 

But, How can this recorded data be deleted if you need to? While viewing the data is important for many users, it is also important to remove any data you may not need. For instance, if someone else is using your phone and they are climbing some stairs or going for a walk, your phone will record this data but it wouldn’t end up being valuable to you so you can easily delete it.

Subsequently, go to the ‘All Recorded Data’ section and for any of the activities tap on ‘Edit’ at the top-right corner and then on the red circle next to the data you want to delete tap on it and the data will be removed. 

The Best Free Walking apps for fitness in 2020

Here is a list of 4 of the best Free Walking apps for fitness in 2020 according to

  • Map My Walk: this app allows you to see a map of the area you are walking and the route will be marked in red. As you walk, you can also see the elapsed time, distance, pace, speed, etc. But consider that your speed will be determined by your GPS.
  • Walkmeter Walking and Hiking GPS by Avio: fitness walkers may enjoy this app because it has excellent features for those who want to improve their speed and distance. It includes features such as splits, intervals, zones and much more.
  • Argus by Azumio: This app functions as an all-day pedometer app that uses the motion sensor in your phone and allows you to track your workout sessions with GPS. Additionally, when you finish, you can see your calories burned, steps, elevation gain, best pace, among others.
  • Fitbit App MobileTracker: this app doesn’t require a Fitbit device and you can use the free app to track your walking workouts with GPS as well as daily activities using the sensor on your phone. Simply choose ‘No Fitbit Yet’ and it will set up the MobileTracker. Other features include seeing a map of the route you have taken, the distance, time, pace, calories burned, and step count. 

Why is this blog about How does Apple health calculate distance walked important?

For many users, knowing how Apple Health calculates distance walked. However, remember that your iPhone is capable of measuring both steps and distance separately. The distance is measured using GPS tracking and the step count uses the accelerometer, so it doesn’t need step length to find the distance. But even if it is tracked and recorded, it has been suggested that the distance measurements may not be as accurate as of the step count.

Additionally, you can delete the information you don’t need or don’t see useful in case someone else has been using your phone.

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