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Fitness Focus: Copy-and-Share: Step it up with Pedometers

Thompson, Dixie L. Ph.D., FACSM

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Dixie L. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, is the director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health and an associate professor in the Department of Exercise, Sport, and Leisure Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Pedometers are popular tools for promoting daily exercise. They are used in community, school, and worksite exercise initiatives. Pedometers can be useful tools for improving health and fitness.

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A typical inactive U.S. adult takes 4,000 to 6,000 steps each day, but people who walk more are less likely to be obese. For example, middle-aged women who walk 10,000 or more steps per day are likely to have a healthy body weight, whereas those who walk less tend to be overweight or obese. Even more impressive are studies showing that sedentary people who use pedometers to become more active often lose weight, lower blood pressure, and increase protection against developing diabetes. Because walking is a moderate intensity activity, as people add steps to their daily life they are burning calories and increasing the demand upon the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems. This improves health and physical function.

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Symbol Why Do They Work?

Pedometers are fairly inexpensive, easy to use, and can be worn throughout the day without much difficulty. They fit on the waistband and do not interfere with most activities. People like pedometers because they count all steps, not just steps taken specifically for exercise. Choosing to walk rather than drive to a nearby meeting might be one way that a person could build steps into the daily routine. The accumulation of walking throughout the day is attractive to many who find it difficult to devote large chunks of time to exercise. Pedometers provide a constant reminder to the wearer to increase activity. At any point during the day, the wearer can see how she/he is progressing toward the daily goal. Setting activity goals and monitoring how well the goals are being met are proven ways to increase activity, and pedometers are effective tools for this process.

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Symbol How to Begin

Document your current level of walking before you start a pedometer-based program. Wear the pedometer for an entire week before changing your exercise habits. Write down your steps each day and calculate your average daily steps. The Table will help you interpret your level of activity:

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If you plan to increase your daily steps, do so in increments. For example, if at first your average is 5,500 steps, set your goal for your first week of the exercise program at 6,500 steps each day. This change is equal to adding approximately 1/2 mile of walking each day because there are roughly 2,000 steps in a mile. Gradually increase daily goals until you reach your desired level of activity. Your ultimate step goal should depend on your age, health, and personal preference. Although 10,000 steps per day is an appropriate goal for many adults, it may be too high for older adults or those with ambulatory limitations. Consultation with a health/fitness professional is the best option for helping set exercise goals.

© 2005 American College of Sports Medicine

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