Pace Yourself for Better Health

Healthnotes Newswire (December 13, 2007)—Using a pedometer—a simple device worn on the leg or hip to count a person’s steps—to encourage physical activity has become increasingly popular. But how effective are they really? A review in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that counting your steps might indeed be a useful way to help lose weight and lower blood pressure.

Most adults take between 4,500 and 6,500 steps per day; people who take less than 5,000 steps per day are considered sedentary. Though it’s always advisable to check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program, some doctors recommend taking 10,000 steps per day for better health—that’s equivalent to walking about five miles per day, or to doing some form of moderate physical activity for 30 minutes, five days per week.

The current review looked at pedometer use in 26 different studies to assess their effect on people’s physical activity and overall health, including changes in blood pressure and body weight. The average age of the 2,767 study participants was 49 years, and the trials lasted about 18 weeks.

Overall, people who used pedometers increased their physical activity by almost 30% over their habits when the studies began. Pedometer users also significantly decreased their body mass index (BMI; a measure related to body weight) and lowered their systolic blood pressure by almost 4 points. This was a notable drop, considering that a 2-point drop in systolic blood pressure is associated with a 10% reduction in risk of death from stroke.

“We found that setting a step goal and the use of a step diary may be key motivational factors for increasing physical activity,” the authors noted.

While taking 10,000 steps per day is right for many people, that number should be adjusted to fit your current activity level and state of health. Any increase in physical activity is likely to have positive effects, so make a goal that is reasonable and safe for you.

Tips to up your steps

• Consider investing in a pedometer; many models are available for around $20

• Set a daily steps goal and work your way up to it gradually; a reasonable rate is to add 10% more steps over your starting count each week

• Park in the farthest spot from your destination

• Walk around while chatting on the phone

• Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator

• Get a walking buddy and hit the trails together during a work break

• Skip the car to go to the corner market—whenever possible, “hoof it”

(JAMA 2007;298:2296–304)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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