Jodi's Running Blog

Gotta keep going…

Pedometers bring extra motivation3

Posted by jodi in Walking (Sunday January 11, 2009 at 2:56 pm)

As a neurologist, I am frequently counseling my patients on the importance of physical activity in their daily lives. Remaining active reduces the risk and severity of hypertension, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia. In addition, it is known that obesity is a risk factor for many forms of cancer, and of course more activity helps to keep obesity at bay. After a patient has a stroke, I have the privilege of assisting him in making lifestyle changes as a form of secondary prevention.

In the past, I have recommended that people wear pedometers if they are uncertain as to how active they are. A researcher in Japan claimed to have evidence that taking 10,000 steps daily was the way to better health and fitness, and it sparked a national campaign. Currently, various groups have implemented the 10,000 steps notion into their guidelines. The official recommendation from the office of the U.S. Surgeon General is to participate in 30 minutes daily of brisk exercise. Personally, I believe the nation would be a much fitter place if everyone engaged in 30 minutes of brisk exercise daily, whether or not they were reaching 10,000 steps. However, 10,000 steps is likely a mark we should still attempt to achieve, as it is more likely to promote actual weight loss, whereas the first goal strives for fitness and overall well-being.

I was certain that I was reaching 10,000 steps daily with little effort required. After all, I’m on my feet much of the day, walk to the bus stop and back, and take regular walks with Evan and Gabriel. In addition, I try to run regularly, even if I only make it a few days each week. In an experiment to see if I was following my own advice that I give to patients, I began wearing a pedometer for the New Year. Wow, what a surprise!

After completing my first week with the pedometer, here are my results:

– From 1/4/09 through 1/10/09, I took 56,363 steps.
– Average steps daily: 8,051
– Most active day: 12,525 steps (included a 5k run in the morning)
– Least active day: 3,752 steps

I know my average would have been lower had I not been wearing a pedometer, as knowing that each step is being counted gives one extra incentive to walk several blocks to the next bus stop instead of catching the one right at the corner. There was also a day when, rather than catching a bus home from the V.A. Hospital, I actually walked the 3.2 miles home, keenly aware that each step would boost my weekly average.

This illustrates a few interesting points. First, even those of us who consider ourselves very active may not be as active as we think we are. Next, 10,000 steps is a lot of steps! Depending on stride length, that could fall anywhere from 5-7 miles daily, and I doubt many Americans are making this goal daily (although they should strive for it). Third, wearing the pedometer is a great way to motivate people to build extra activity into their days!

I have refined my advice for patients a bit based on my own experience. It goes something like this:

– Wear the pedometer everywhere for one week. Keep track of the number of steps being taken daily in a log book.
– Next, calculate the average steps daily based on that week’s log book numbers.
– Aim to increase the number of steps being taken daily by 500. If that becomes more comfortable and routine over another week, then increase by another 500 daily the following week, and so on, until reaching a goal of 10,000 steps daily.
– Build 30 minutes of moderate exercise into the week, at least three days weekly to begin. After a few weeks, increase exercise frequency to four times weekly. The goal should be five times/week.

In the meantime, I will continue to wear my pedometer and track my own steps (in addition to regular exercise – my preferred form, of course, is running). My hope is to catch people with multiple stroke risk factors after a TIA or mild stroke has occurred, and assist them in making changes that will prevent the next, more catastrophic event from occurring. My enthusiasm for this is high, and it’s a New Year.

For further reading on building activity into daily life, click here for a website I found helpful.