Make Your Steps Count!

Thomas Jefferson is famous for many things. He wrote the Declaration of Independence and he was our nation's third president. He is also credited with inventing a wonderful little fitness tool called a pedometer. A pedometer, or step counter, is a small, electronic gadget that is worn on your belt like a pager. It contains a pendulum that moves as you walk or jog. It counts the number of steps taken each day and encourages its wearer to be more physically active.
Diane Sonntag

"We all know what we are supposed to do," says Ray Varner, an exercise physiologist from Indianapolis. "It's just finding the motivation to do it. A pedometer gives you a goal for the day and holds you accountable to that goal."

The goal, experts say, is 10,000 steps per day, which is the equivalent of five miles. "A pedometer can play a huge role in ensuring a person gets enough exercise," says former national race walk champion Lisa Ruffing. "Just clipping it on your belt acts as a reminder to be more active."

The health benefits of being more physically active are numerous. Research shows that walking an additional 5,000 steps a day can cut the risk of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease. Walking burns calories and tones muscles in the legs and buttocks. Most sedentary people walk only 3,000 steps a day, so any increase can be beneficial.

There are other motivational benefits, as well. Amanda Butler of Columbus, Ohio absolutely hates going grocery shopping. "There are several household chores that I really dread doing, but they seem more tolerable now due to my pedometer. I know how many steps I usually take on a trip to the grocery store, and it gives me a double sense of accomplishment. I got my shopping done, and I exercised in the process," she says. "I have been using my pedometer every day for over a year now. That's far longer than I have ever stuck with any other exercise program."

Most mothers don't have time to dedicate solely to exercise. That's one of the best advantages of a pedometer.

"The days when I have done nothing but chase my children and have hardly had a moment to myself are the days that I really appreciate my pedometer," says Dee Phipps, a mother with two young children. "Those are the days I shrug and say, 'At least I got my steps.'"

Nancy Wells, a mother of four from Valparaiso, Indiana says her pedometer fits right into her life. "My pedometer works with my routine. I have so much to do, and I feel like I get credit for exercising even though I am just taking care of daily tasks."

Butler keeps a small calendar to record the number of steps she takes each day. "It encourages me to stick with the program. It gives me a sense of accomplishment to look back and see that I have met my exercise goals. Also, I find myself watching what I eat because I don't want to waste the calories I just walked off."

Meeting goals
Pedometer wearers find themselves making small changes in their daily habits to meet their daily walking goals. Changes such as parking further away from store entrances, taking the stairs rather than the elevator, and walking around on television commercial breaks are all small changes that can have a big impact. Other ways to build extra steps into your daily routine include: pacing while talking on the phone, taking the dog or your children for a walk through the neighborhood, doing housework, walking on your lunch hour, and playing or dancing with your kids.

"The main thing is just to avoid being sedentary for long periods of time. A pedometer can remind you to get up and get moving," says Ruffing. "Exercise partners are great too. Whether it's a pedometer readout or a friend saying 'great job,' we all need that positive feedback to succeed. Pedometers help people think about fitness."

Pedometers range in price from $10 to $50. Some just count steps, while others measure the distance traveled and calories burned. Some advanced models even play music, keep time with a stopwatch, and read heart rates. Basic models can be found at discount stores like Target or Wal-Mart for about $12. Sporting goods stores and websites carry the more advanced models, which usually range in price from $30 to $50. The web site offers a list of the top 10 best pedometers based on price, accuracy and advanced features. The recommended brands listed were Sportline, Digi-Walker, Freestyle, and Robic. In general, look for one that is durable, lightweight, accurate, easily read, and clips to belt or waistband securely.

Pedometers are great motivational tools. They are low-tech and inexpensive. They require no special skills so they are accessible to nearly everyone. They do not require a large investment of time or money. "The motivational benefits definitely outweigh the cost of the pedometer," confirms Ruffing.

Keep in mind pedometers do not work with non-weight bearing activities, such as bicycling or swimming. They also cannot measure intensity, so a step is a step whether you were strolling or sprinting.

To lose a pound a week, you need to burn 500 extra calories per day," says Varner. "On average, walking one mile burns 100 calories. If you walk another three miles a day and skip that cookie, you'll meet your weight loss goal. You don't have to eat perfectly or exercise like an Olympic athlete to lose weight. Small changes can make a big difference."

Tags: pedometer walking

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