EXERCISE
July 2, 2008

Pedometers: Small Changes Make a Big Health Difference

Two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese and 55% do not get the recommended minimum of 30 minutes a day of physical activity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two−thirds of American adults are overweight or obese and 55% do not get the recommended minimum of 30 minutes a day of physical activity. With this in mind, Dena Bravata, M. D., a senior researcher at Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California, wondered if there was an inexpensive way to motivate her patients to get moving. "Improving health behaviors in the number one thing I discuss during my patients' routine visits," she said.

In addition to increasing their level of physical activity, on average the study participants, mostly sedentary, overweight women, lost weight and decreased their systolic blood pressure by 3.8 mm Hg.

In the quest for an inexpensive motivator, Dr. Bravata led a team from Stanford that analyzed 26 studies in which pedometers were used to inspire people to be more active. The results, which were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, revealed that on average, people in the studies who wore pedometers increased the amount they walked by just over 2,100 steps each day. This may not seem like a lot, but two thousand steps equals about one mile. Multiply that increase by seven days a week and that is more than an extra 350 miles walked each year.

In addition to increasing their level of physical activity, on average the study participants, mostly sedentary, overweight women, lost weight and decreased their systolic blood pressure by 3.8 mm Hg. (Systolic refers to the top number in the blood pressure reading.) This was a significant health improvement, since a reduction of only 2 mm Hg decreases the chances of dying from a stroke by 10%.

Organizations such as Shape Up America founded by former U. S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, M. D. and Weight Watchers International recommend walking 10,000 steps a day for better health and weight control. Setting a concrete goal and having a simple way of recording whether it is reached is key to changing a health behavior. "People don't always achieve it, but just having a goal seems to help them stay motivated and improve their physical activity," Bravata said.

Pedometers that unobtrusively clip on a belt or waistband can be purchased $10 to $20. That is less than most people spend as a co−pay for a single visit to the doctor. Bravata hopes her study will inspire physicians to recommend that their patients try this low−cost way of stepping into better health.

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