Table 3 reveals how the number of steps per day differed based on subject characteristics collected in the self-reported telephone survey. Steps per day did not differ significantly between men and women, or as a function of education level or race. In general, steps per day declined with increasing age (P < 0.0001). The exception was the 40- to 49-yr-old group, which reported more steps per day than individuals 30–39 yr of age. Steps per day were directly related to income (P < 0.0001), with steps per day increasing with income level.
Marital status had a significant effect on steps per day. Single individuals walked more than married or divorced individuals, and the lowest walking was seen in widowed individuals. The latter group, however, tended to be significantly older than the other groups, and steps per day were also found to decrease with age.
There was also a significant inverse relationship between body mass index (BMI) and steps per day (P < 0.0001). In this sample, 47% of the sample were overweight (BMI > 25 kg·m−2) and 13% were obese (BMI ≥ 30 kg·m−2). This is similar to information obtained about overweight and obesity prevalence from the Colorado Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) (http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/brfss/Trends/trendchart.asp?qkey=10010&state=CO). Overweight individuals reported 555 fewer steps per day than normal-weight individuals, and obese individuals reported 2393 fewer steps per day than normal-weight individuals.
We also asked participants if they had been weight stable or had gained or lost ≥5 lb of weight during the last year. Twenty-two percent of individuals surveyed reported gaining more than 5 lb during the last year, and 22% reported losing more than 5 lb during the last year. Although differences in steps per day did not reach statistical significance (P < 0.09), it is interesting to note that, in general, those who reported they had been weight stable over the past year reported higher step per day values than those who either lost or gained weight (Table 4).
Participants were asked whether they were actively trying to lose weight. About half of those surveyed (49%) answered yes to this question. Individuals who answered yes reported an average of 6409 steps per day versus an average of 7218 steps per day for those who answered no to the question (P < 0.018).
Table 5 shows how steps per day varied with answers to specific questions about usual physical activity and inactivity. The specific question asked, and the range of possible responses, is shown for each question in Table 5. Steps per day increased with the number of days that participants reported exercising strenuously (P < 0.0001). Strenuous activity was defined to the subject in the survey as a time when you breathe heavily and your heart and pulse rate are accelerated for a period lasting 20 min or more. Participants were asked how physically active they were, with the four possible responses shown in Table 5. Steps per day were highest in those who reported they were very active, next highest in those reporting they were somewhat active, next highest in those who reported they were somewhat inactive, and lowest in those who reported they were very inactive (P < 0.0001).
Interestingly, only 3% of individuals rated themselves as very inactive, and another 11% rated themselves as somewhat inactive (see Table 5). At the same time, 18% of the survey population reported that they never get strenuous physical activity, and another 17% reported exercising strenuously only once a week. Only 52% of the survey reported exercising strenuously on three or more days each week.
Steps per day were significantly negatively related to hours per day of television watching that participants reported (P < 0.001) and to hours of sitting per day reported by subjects (P < 0.001).
About 70% of the respondents reported that they wanted to be more physically active (Table 5). There was a significant negative relationship between steps per day and rating of walking as a good method to increase physical activity (P < 0.04; Table 5). Those individuals who were least active were more likely to rate walking as a good method of increasing physical activity (Table 5).
We performed a multiple regression analysis to see how steps per day related to the combination of a number of subject characteristics and to physical inactivity. Table 6 shows the results of the multiple regression model. Gender was the only nonsignificant factor included in the model. There are two models illustrated. The first is a model with only significant demographic characteristics. The second includes significant behavioral characteristics (TV watching and hours sitting) as well. The coefficients represent the difference in steps per day from the designated reference group in each category, and are adjusted for all other factors in the model. For TV watching, the coefficient is the drop in steps per day for each hour of TV watching. As an example of interpretation, in the first model obese subjects take about 2004 fewer steps per day than normal-weight individuals adjusted for other demographic characteristics. In the second model, after additional adjustment for time spent sitting and watching TV, obese individuals walked an average of 1633 fewer steps per day than normal-weight subjects. Self-reported sitting and TV watching explains only a small part of the difference in walking between obese and normal-weight subjects.
The models illustrate subgroups at highest risk for low activity. The addition of self-reported TV watching and sitting does not explain the demographic factor effects, because each factor remains significant. After adjustment for all of the factors in the second model, the other behavioral and demographic factors (e.g., diet or education) are still not significantly related to steps per day.
To our knowledge, this is the first study to describe levels of walking, quantified by a pedometer, and determinants of walking in a large population in a statewide survey. There are many other reports of average number of steps per day in small populations. These have been reviewed by Tudor-Locke and Myers (18). The results vary with the group surveyed, with higher step per day values in the younger, fitter samples, and lower step per day values in older, less fit samples. These descriptive data of walking in the population in one of the leanest states may be useful in helping determine step per day targets for the general population. For example, a common recommendation is to aim for 10,000 steps per day. Only 9% of the adult population in Colorado currently meets this goal, and 33% do not even achieve half of this goal. Based on this information, 10,000 steps per day may not be an achievable goal, at least initially for a large proportion of the population. If we set the step per day goal too high initially, we risk discouraging people who make significant increases in walking but do not reach this goal.
A major reason for conducting this survey was to provide a baseline level of walking within the state of Colorado in the hopes that we will be able to increase this level by promoting Colorado on the Move, and thus slow the rate of weight gain in the population. One initial concern was that physical activity would already be high in this population and that it might be difficult to increase it further. This was not the case, because 62% of the Colorado population was classified as either sedentary or low active, based on criteria suggested by Tudor-Locke and Basset (19). This suggests that even in one of the leanest states, there is substantial room for increases in physical activity.
A number of methods, most of them self-report, are used to track physical activity in the population (9,20). Our results show that steps per day, which is an objective measure of walking, tracks well with self-reported physical activity. Having immediate and objective information about the amount of physical activity performed could help promote increases in physical activity in the population. Pedometers are accurate and inexpensive, and hold promise as a tool to help increase population physical activity. We have shown that we can use pedometers to produce short-term increases in physical activity (21), but data about their long-term effectiveness are lacking.
We obtained some useful information about how steps per day varies with characteristics of the participants. Age, marital status, income, and weight category all influenced the number of steps per day. It is generally appreciated that physical activity declines with increasing age (11), and we saw this trend in steps per day. The highest level of walking was seen in 18- to 29-yr-old subjects, and this declined with advancing age. Those who were greater than 60 yr of age averaged about 2000 fewer steps each day than 18–29 yr olds. Increases of 2000 steps per day in individuals over the age of 30 would be sufficient to increase their physical activity level to that of 18- to 29-yr-old subjects. The decline in physical activity that occurs with age is thought to be one factor that could increase the probability of weight gain with age (2,11). These data also suggest that achieving high step population goals, such as getting 10,000 steps per day, will be harder for older Americans than for younger ones.
The fact that steps per day were highest in single individuals may not be surprising, because these individuals may have fewer barriers, such as time and family responsibilities, to being physically active. For similar reasons, it is not surprising that more walking was seen in higher income levels. Obesity also shows an inverse relationship with income (8).
Those participants who were obese reported the lowest number of steps per day. This is consistent with research suggesting that a low level of physical activity is a risk factor for weight gain and obesity (12). The average steps per day were about 2400 per day lower than those with a healthy body weight, and about 1800 per day lower than those who reported being overweight. Even more striking is that 65% of those who reported being obese were in the most sedentary category based on steps per day.
The state survey also provided some interesting information about the degree to which participants would like to change body weight and physical activity. Although generally recognized as one of the leanest (10) and healthiest states, about half of the people in the survey were trying to lose weight, and 70% reported that they would like to be more physically active. Eighteen percent of those surveyed reported that they never engage in strenuous physical activity, and only about half reported that they achieve the recommended goal of engaging in physical activity at least 3× wk−1.
Although most researchers accept that a decline in lifestyle physical activity has likely contributed to the obesity epidemic, specific data to quantify the decline in lifestyle physical activity are lacking (4). These results, in combination with results recently reported by Basset et al. (1), give some indication of the extent to which daily walking has declined over the past century. Bassett et al. (1) used pedometers to assess lifestyle physical activity in 98 Amish adults in southern Ontario. The Amish lifestyle likely approximates the American lifestyle seen before the technological developments of the past several decades. Amish men reported an average of 18,425 steps per day, and Amish women reported an average of 14,196 steps per day. In contrast, Colorado men report an average of 7028 steps per day, and Colorado women report 6606 steps per day. This decline in walking alone, if not compensated for by changes in energy intake or by the body’s regulation of energy balance, could explain far more weight gain that has been seen in the population. These data are certainly supportive of an important role in the decline in physical activity that has contributed to the weight gain of the population over the past decades.
The steps per day difference was not statistically significant depending on whether people were weight stable or had lost or gained at least 5 lb over the past year (P < 0.09). However, some trends here are worth noting. For both healthy BMI individuals and obese individuals, those who reported that they were weight stable over the past year reported more steps per day than those who had either lost or gained at least 5 lb. The results are consistent with the notion that low levels of physical activity can increase the probability of weight gain. Those who are attempting weight loss also report walking less than those maintain a constant weight. Although we do not have information about their walking level before attempting weight loss, this could reflect the fact that most people who attempt weight loss focus much more on food restriction than on increasing physical activity. This is not encouraging, because increasing physical activity is a good predictor of success in weight loss maintenance (6,12,13). It is not clear why this relationship was not seen in the overweight group.
On a positive note, walking was more likely rated as a good way to increase physical activity among those who walked the least. This suggests that those who need to increase physical activity the most may be receptive to programs seeking to increase walking as a means to increase physical activity level. This could be an advantage in implementing interventions in this group.
Overall, these results provided a baseline for the physical activity level of the population in Colorado on the Move before we began to promote it statewide as a weight-gain prevention program. Colorado on the Move has now been implemented in hundreds of schools, work sites, families, and communities across the state. It is our intent to repeat this survey in a few years to document the impact of the program on walking and body weight in the state’s population.
The results provide encouragement for the intent of Colorado on the Move. The aim of Colorado on the Move is for people to increase walking by 2000 steps. We did not provide an overall goal (e.g., 10,000 steps per day) for the population. The results are supportive of not having a single step goal (such as 10,000 steps per day), because so many people in this survey get fewer than 5000 steps per day. Asking them to double their physical activity may be counterproductive in that they may get discouraged if they are unable to make such a big increase in a reasonable period of time. They may be much more successful by striving to make small, incremental increases in walking over time, gradually building up to an activity level they never would have attempted at first. Second, it was interesting in this study that obese individuals reported about 2000 steps per day less than nonobese individuals. Although this cannot be taken as cause and effect, it does suggest that the aim of Colorado on the Move—to increase walking by 2000 steps per day—could be of a magnitude that could aid in prevention of weight gain.
The success of Colorado on the Move has led to the launch of America on the Move (http://www.americaonthemove.org), a national weight-gain prevention program, and to the establishment of 19 “On the Move” state affiliates. It may be useful to conduct a similar survey of walking in other states, both to assess the current level of physical activity and to use this level as a baseline to evaluate the impact of programs aimed at increasing physical activity.
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Keywords:©2005The American College of Sports Medicine
OBESITY; PHYSICAL ACTIVITY; AMERICAN ON THE MOVE; WEIGHT-GAIN PREVENTION