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Pedometers - Pocket Sized Exercise Motivation

Use your smartphone to track your steps.
Use your smartphone to track your steps.

Move more. Those two simple words pack an enormously important message, but it's a message Americans increasingly choose to ignore.

In 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services released a landmark report that for the first time, made specific recommendations on how much activity we should get for better health.

It was headline news...for about a day. Then we treated the information with the same regard we give every report that suggests we exercise more. We ignored it.

Intellectually we KNOW we should be exercising, but it's so much more convenient to kick back on the couch and make fun of people on reality TV.

What we need is something that's part competitive game, part personal trainer and convenient enough to fit into our already overstuffed lives. I'd like to introduce you to the pedometer. It's a little device you wear or carry with you, that measures how many steps you're taking in a day. There are two basic models to choose from.

The first type use a spring-levered system. Each step you take creates a shock that the spring and lever react to, increasing the count. Those are often the least expensive models but they also tend to be less accurate.

More advanced models use a piezoelectric system, where crystals react to the small impacts from walking to open an electrical circuit and advance the count. Downloadable apps use the piezoelectric system built into smart phones to work. Both spring-levered and piezoelectric pedometers are more accurate when you jog or run, because the impact from each step is greater.

Once you've chosen the type, it's just a matter of figuring out what "extras" you want. Here's a list of options to consider.

Pedometer Options

  1. Do you have a smartphone? You can probably download one to track what you're doing every day. The best options are ones that can run in the background, while other phone functions continue.

    For Standalone Pedometers

  2. Is it compatible with your computer? Some can be plugged in of synched with a computer to download their data.
  3. Does it have a heart rate monitor? That can be a plus if you're doing more intense training and want to make sure you're exercising within your range.
  4. Do you want to know how many calories you're burning? By entering your weight some models can estimate how many calories you'll lose by taking that walk.
  5. Is there a stopwatch? If you're doing timed exercises it's convenient to have everything in one device.
  6. Do you want to know how far or fast you're moving? Get a pedometer that measures distance and speed. Advanced models use GPS signals for the most accurate results.
  7. Does it have a flip case or way to lock the buttons? You don't want to accidentally push the reset button in the middle of the day and lose count.

After you've chosen the model you want, wear it for two typical days. Take the total steps and average them together. If you're getting at least 10,000-12,500 a day, you're doing great. Walking more probably isn't something you need. But if it's less, here's what you do.

Start by setting a goal to increase the steps by a realistic number. I suggest adding 500 steps a day the first week. Bump that up to 1,000 extra steps a day the second week. Keep moving the number higher, one week at a time, until you're walking at least 10,000 steps every day. Track the results on your refrigerator, your Facebook page or via e-mail with your friends.

By increasing the number slowly, you're less likely to injure yourself. Telling friends and family about your goals helps keep you motivated and allows the people you love to give you support.

If you don't want to set aside specific times to get your steps in, add walking to your daily activities.

Seven ways to fit more in your life.

  1. Don't sit down to read a book, buy the book on tape and listen while you walk.
  2. Park a few blocks from where you work and walk the extra distance.
  3. When you go outside to get the mail, take it out of the box and walk around the block before you go back inside.
  4. Don't use drive-thru windows, park and walk into the businesses.
  5. Use stairs instead of elevators or escalators.
  6. When the weather is bad, walk your local mall from end to end. If you're worried about spending money, do it without a wallet or purse.
  7. If you have kids, walk them to the bus stop or their school. Then go back and meet them when they come home.

Ultimately, according to a study published in JAMA, the use of a pedometer is, "associated with significant increases in physical activity and significant decreases in body mass index and blood pressure." It's a helpful reminder of the activity level you should be engaged in. Choose your model, set a goal and start walking.

Are You Good at Guessing?

Researchers in Norway wondered if people had any idea how much physical activity they engaged in every day. So they sent out questionnaires and asked. Then they used accelerometers to follow-up and verify the self-reported results.

They found "large variations between self-reported and accelerometer-measured physical activity and sedentary time." People thought they were moving a lot more than they were. Start using a pedometer and find out exactly how much you're really moving.

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8/21/2011
Updated 5/5/2014