ACSM'S Health & Fitness Journal:
DEPARTMENTS: Fitness Focus
Thompson, Dixie L. Ph.D., FACSM
Dixie L. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, is the director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health and professor and department head for the Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
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Pedometers are popular tools for monitoring daily activity levels, but the average person may ask, “How can I use a pedometer to help me live an active lifestyle?” Before addressing the specifics of pedometers, let’s review the national physical activity (PA) recommendations. Adults should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week in bouts of 10 minutes or longer. Alternatively, one could engage in 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or some combination or both. The focus of this column is the moderate intensity recommendation because walking falls into this category and is the activity best measured by pedometers. Many translate this 150-minute per week recommendation into at least 30 minutes per day on at least 5 days per week, which matches ACSM’s PA recommendation. However, how does this translate into a pedometer goal?
WALK 10,000 STEPS PER DAY
Accumulating 10,000 steps per day is a popular pedometer goal. This standard came from work showing that individuals who walk this much have a healthier physical profile. Studies show that sedentary people who begin to walk 10,000 steps per day experience positive health outcomes including improved blood glucose control, lower blood pressure, and weight loss. Also, when people walk at least 10,000 steps per day, they are likely meeting the national PA recommendation. A criticism of this approach is that it might be too aggressive for older adults, people with chronic disease, or those who have been extremely sedentary.
INCREASE BASELINE STEPS BY 3,000 TO 4,000 STEPS EACH DAY
At a typical, moderate-intensity walking pace, most people will walk between 100 and 140 steps per minute, which means 3,000 to 4,200 steps during a 30-minute walk. To use this approach, measure the number of steps you take on days when you are engaging in your normal activities for 3 to 7 days. Then, set your goal 3,000 to 4,000 steps above this baseline. Like the 10,000 steps per day goal, this approach will yield healthy outcomes.
Three factors are important in using pedometers to increase PA: commit to wearing a pedometer, select an appropriate goal, and self-monitor your activity level. You must commit to wearing your pedometer on a consistent basis. If you can’t make this commitment, chose another approach to increasing your daily activity. If you chose to undertake a pedometer program, use the information in this article, or the advice of a fitness professional, to help choose a walking goal. Try to achieve this goal at least 5 days per week. You don’t have to try to reach your ultimate goal immediately. Start out by increasing your baseline steps by 1,000 steps per day (approximately 10 minutes of walking). After you have done this for a week, increase again. This gradual approach makes it easier to sustain your activity and lessens chances for muscle and joint soreness. Be sure to record your steps each day. A daily exercise journal is critically important in helping keep you on track with your PA goals.
One last factor is how to build the extra steps into your day. People typically use a combination of building steps into their normal routine (e.g., parking their car farther from the door) and designating specific structured walking bouts (e.g., 20-minute walk during lunch). Look at your daily schedule, and make a commitment to building steps into your day. The improvement in your health will be well worth the effort.