Wearing a Pedometer Can Help You Walk More, Study Finds

Pedometer (image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)A study by scientists in Australia has found that seniors who clipped on a pedometer nearly doubled the time they spent walking each week.

The study, by Gregory S. Kolt, Ph.D., head of the School of Science and Health, University of Western Sydney, Penrith, Australia and Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand, and colleagues, was published in a recent issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.

“Use of pedometers, as a mechanism to monitor physical activity, was beneficial to older adults as they improved their levels of activity,” Dr. Kolt told HealthDay.

“Pedometers allowed users to check their progress throughout the day against activity goals they had set for themselves,” Dr. Kolt said.

The Study; Method

The researchers studied 330 relatively healthy seniors aged 65 and older, who at the beginning of the study said they got little regular exercise.

The participants were randomly divided into two groups to measure and compare the effects of two different physical activity programs on the extent of their walking and other physical activity, body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, and quality of life over a follow-up period of over a year.

One group was assigned to follow for a year a so-called standard Green Prescription program aimed at getting people to engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day. The program included a visit with a primary care practitioner and three telephone counseling sessions over the first 12 weeks, aimed at increasing physical activity.

The second group was assigned for a year to follow exactly the same Green Prescription program with the same primary care practitioner visit and three counseling sessions over the first 12 weeks. But this second group was also given a pedometer to wear, to track their step-by-step movements every day.

Over a period of a year, the researchers measured “changes in physical activity (assessed with the Auckland Heart Study Physical Activity Questionnaire), blood pressure, BMI, quality of life (assessed with the 36-Item Short Form Health Survey), physical function status (assessed with the Short Physical Performance Battery), and falls over a 12-month period.”

Findings

The researchers found that both groups showed significant increases in all types of physical activity after 3 months (at the end of the physician visit and counseling sessions period), and these increases in activity levels were largely maintained after 12 months of follow-up.

However, those who had worn the pedometers increased the average time they walked each week by almost twice as much as those who did not have pedometers.

Specifically, those wearing the pedometers increased their walking time by 49.6 minutes per week, while those not wearing the pedometers increased their weekly walking time by only 28.1 minutes per week.

Neither group experienced any change in their Body Mass Index (BMI) (a measure of weight relative to height). Both groups, however, did experience significant improvements in blood pressure, without any differences between them, the researchers found.

Conclusions; Implications

“Pedometer use resulted in a greater increase in leisure walking without any impact on overall activity level,” the authors concluded. “All participants increased physical activity, and on average, their blood pressure decreased over 12 months, although the clinical relevance is unknown,” the authors stated.

As to how pedometers had the effect of increasing the amount of walking the participants did, Dr. Kolt, the author, told HealthDay that wearing a pedometer apparently “allows users to see how much physical activity they are accumulating through their general daily routines,” upping the odds they’ll stick with the program.

Dr. Kolt suggested that since Pedometers are generally inexpensive, they may be “an ideal component of public health efforts aimed at boosting exercise habits.”

The new study’s findings are consistent with several other studies. In 2007, Dena Bravata, MD, MS, a senior research scientist in medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, and colleagues, reviewed 26 previous scientific studies —18 observational studies and eight randomized trials—that examined the use of pedometers as a tool to motivate physical activity.

These studies involved a total of 2,767 participants, most of whom were female, overweight and relatively inactive before they started a walking program as part of the studies. The walking programs evaluated in the studies lasted an average of 18 weeks.

Dr. Bravata and her colleagues found that “pedometer users in the randomized trials increased their physical activity by 2,491 steps per day more than participants who did not use pedometers. Among the observational studies, pedometer users increased their physical activity by 2,183 steps per day over baseline,” according to a news release about Dr. Bravata’s research issued by Stanford School of Medicine.

“Just over 2,100 steps might not sound that much, but it equates to a 27 percent increase in physical activity—which is really astounding,” said Dr. Bravata.

These studies also found that use of a pedometer was associated not only with significant increases in physical activity but also with weight loss and improvements in blood pressure, according to Dr. Bravata’s review as reported in Stanford School of Medicine’s release.

Dr. Bravata’s findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

More than two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, according statistics published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). An astounding 55 percent of Americans do not get enough physical activity, according to the CDC.

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans issued by the Department of Health and Human Services recommend that adults should get at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity every week (or one hour and 15 minutes of high intensity aerobic activity a week), coupled with muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week.

The nonprofit Shape Up America founded by former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, MD, recommends that adults walk 10,000 steps each day.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), in its pamphlet, Selecting and Effectively Using a Walking Program also recommends 10,000 steps of walking per day for most healthy adults. But, ACSM recommends that “If your baseline is under this level, try to increase your steps by 1,000 per day every two weeks until you reach your 10,000 steps per day.”

Like the authors of the new study, the American College of Sports Medicine suggests that using a pedometer may be one of the best ways to motivate yourself to reach those guidelines and walk your way to good health.

More Information

Consumer Reports provides Information on Pedometers, including an overview, ratings, recommendations, a Buying Guide, and pricing and shopping information. According to Consumer Reports, simple pedometers can be purchased for prices ranging from about $10.00 to about $50.00, depending on the brands and features.

An article published by About.com also provides information to help you select and purchase a pedometer.

For more information on exercise, diet and other lifestyle factors that promote wellness and prevent diseases, see the HelpingYouCare™ resource pages on Wellness/ Healthy Living for Seniors & Caregivers, including:

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