GET OFF ON THE RIGHT FOOT
Pedometer is an important step in walking regimen
By Ven Griva
Copley News Service
It's no secret that the human body - young or old - benefits from regular exercise. One simple form of exercise gaining traction these days is walking.
The beauty of walking is that it's low-cost. There's no need for a gym membership, fancy workout equipment or personal trainer.
But there is one device that study after study shows will help walkers in several ways. It's a pedometer.
In their simplest form, pedometers count how many steps you take. That's important because the people who study health and longevity have come up with a number for how many steps we should take at least three days a week to keep in good health.
That number is 10,000.
Scientific studies point to many benefits of taking 10,000 steps per day, such as weight control, reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, decreased incidence of diabetes, reduction in the incidence of arthritis and reduced risk of dementia.
But as all of us know who have ever made a New Year's resolution, it does not take long for resolve to dissolve. That's where a pedometer comes in handy.
It gives us a numeric goal and affirmation when we meet it, experts say.
At Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., senior research scientist Dr. Dena M. Bravata had seen a lot of the studies touting the benefit of using a pedometer. But before she recommended them to her patients, Bravata did some research. In fact, she reviewed 26 pedometer-walking studies that followed more than 2,700 mostly overweight participants with an average age of 49 years old.
According to the results of Bravata's review - published Nov. 21, 2007, in the Journal of the American Medical Association - participants in step programs increased their daily exercise significantly.
"Much to my surprise, these little devices were shown to increase physical activity by just over 2,100 steps, or about 1 mile of walking per day," Bravata said. "Just over 2,100 steps might not sound like that much, but it equates to 27 percent increase in physical activity, which is really astounding."
Bravata and her team of Stanford researchers found that having a goal was a big help for people in keeping up their resolve to exercise more.
"People don't always achieve it, but just having a step goal was a key predictor of increased physical activity," Bravata said.
A pedometer is a small electronic gadget that clips at the hip onto your belt or waistband. They are available commercially everywhere from drugstores, sporting goods stores and online, and range in price from $5 to $75 and up.
Generally, the more expensive they are, the more accurately they count your steps. Some studies have shown that the counts for inexpensive pedometers can be off by as much as 25 percent.
Many are programmed using your height, weight, age and the length of your stride. Once that information is input, the device will not only count your steps, but tell you the distance you have walked, how many calories you have burned and time how long you have been walking.
Dr. David Bassett of the University of Tennessee researched the precision of pedometer models.
"The pedometers sold at Wal-Mart, Target, etc. tend to be of lesser quality," Bassett says. He recommends shopping for some of the better brands of pedometers on the Web.
In terms of accuracy, from best to worst, he found that the models ranked as follows:
- Yamax CW-701: $60 from www.stepintohealth.com.
Besides step counting, the Yamax CW-701 displays distance, calories burned, activity time and time of day. The display is in two lines showing multiple data. It features a seven-day daily memory for steps, distance, calories and activity time, and keeps a two-week total for each as well. The belt clip is sturdy metal.
- Omron HJ-720ITC USB Pocket Pedometer: $60 from www.rei.com.
The Omron HJ-720ITC USB Pocket Pedometer accurately counts steps, calculates distance, calories burned, activity time and time of day. For the same price as other advanced pedometers, it can also upload the data to your computer to set your goals and see your progress. It has a seven-day memory, is silent and comes with a security leash to ensure it is not lost.
- Yamax Digi-Walker SW-200 Pedometer: $20 from www.stepintohealth.com.
Research shows the Yamax Digi-Walker SW-200 to be the most accurate on the market, used as the gold standard to judge other pedometers. The display shows distance, steps, calories burned, steps per minute, time of day. Users complain that the plastic clip does not work well.
- Sportline 330, Oregon Scientific. $12 from www.amazon.com.
Sportline 330, Oregon Scientific is quiet, accurate and loaded with features despite its small size. The dual-line display shows distance, steps, calories burned, steps per minute and time of day. It times your workout and can display the total for the past seven days. The clip holds it securely to your belt, better than some models.
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