Pedometers: An incentive to walk or just another gadget?

The newest fitness trend—the gadget you see people wearing on their wrist or hooked to their belt, carrying in their pocket, or checking on their smartphone—is a pedometer that tracks fitness activity. The very basic pedometers measure the number of steps an individual takes during a 24-hour period, but the technology skyrockets from there to fitness monitors that track all your daily movement. Some devices record the type of exercise, when you did it, how much exertion you used, how many calories you burned, your heart rate, and some have GPS (Global Positioning System) technology that track where you did your activity (Fig.).

The first major design for a pedometer was produced in the 1960s, when studies showed 10,000 steps a day can balance the average caloric intake and expenditure to maintain a healthy body. Today, pedometers can be synchronized to your smartphone or computer, providing data on every move you make during the day and how well you sleep at night. Pedometers are designed to be small and portable, so you can carry the device, wear it on your body, or clip it to your clothing without any hindrances.

10,000 steps a day keeps the doctor away

The lack of physical activity can lead to heart disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and some cancers; therefore, most physicians recommend at least 30 minutes of daily exercise. However, recent studies have concluded that even if you do the recommended daily exercise but then sit for most of the day, the exercise will not do you much good. Researchers are now suggesting that if you sit most of the day, you should get up and walk every hour for 5 to 10 minutes plus do 30 minutes of exercise. A pedometer can help you achieve this new recommendation because the goal of 10,000 steps encourages activity throughout the day.

On average, most adults take between 3,000 and 6,000 steps a day during normal daily activities. Adding more steps, for example, if you walked on a treadmill or cut grass with a push lawn mower, you would log about 3,000 steps during 30 minutes. Add to those numbers a 5-minute walk every hour and you would be at 10,000 or more steps before bedtime.

How to walk for health

Your fitness monitor may tell you the specific details about your activity, but if you have a pedometer that simply measures your steps, the “talk test” can help you determine if you are getting the full benefit of your walk. If you are strolling leisurely with no exertion at all, you are not increasing your heart rate; and therefore, not benefiting from the exercise. Walk briskly as if you have somewhere to go and try to talk. If you can carry on a conversation while moving briskly, then you are at a good pace. If you are out of breath and unable to talk, you can slow down just a bit. Find the speed that works for you, which means, you may fall a little behind or stride a little ahead of a walking partner.

The motivation factor

Pedometers are a great way to monitor physical fitness but studies have shown that the motivation factor is the major reason they are an effective exercise tool. According to the Harvard Health Publications, pedometers are useful motivational tools because they help to increase daily physical activity over nonusers. Studies show that individuals who use pedometers every day walk at least 2,000 steps a day more than those who do not use them. Additionally, people are discovering that the daily goal is achievable by simply getting up and doing something. Anything besides sitting will help you achieve your 10,000-step goal. You can go shopping, take the kids out to play, walk the dog, or do your housework and your pedometer will record your every move.
Some fitness monitors allow users to add friends through an online app that encourages friendly competition to increase activity. Your friends can be in your phone’s contact list or a Facebook friend, depending on the app or software. Some organizations promote a healthy lifestyle in the workplace by offering challenges for employees. In these types of challenges, a specific step count and deadline is set and while the challenge is in effect, the software records the number of steps each participant takes and places the information on a leader board which everyone in the challenge can monitor. The more steps you take, the higher you climb on the board. At the end of
the challenge, the one with the most steps wins, but actually everyone wins because they have increased their daily activity level.

A growing trend

Whether the device simply counts your steps or is paired with software, using one to monitor your physical activity can provide the motivation you need to get up and move. As with any exercise program, consistency—doing the exercise day after day and keeping it up for a prolonged period of time—is what matters most. Pedometers are not just another fad or gadget, they are fun tools that can help you achieve your exercise goals and improve your health.

Author: Marissa Turturro, MS, ATC, NSCA-CPT and Joanna Sunnes

Reprinted with permission from the Hughston Health Alert, Volume 29, Number 3, Summer 2017.