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Meet Your New Pal: the Pedometer

Your guide to getting started with a step counter.


By the dLife Editors

Regular activity, like walking, is one of the best ways to help control your blood sugar levels. Using a pedometer, or step counter—a small, lightweight wearable device—is a great way to keep track of the number of steps you take each day. Pedometers don’t only count steps, they can keep track of the distance you walk and count the calories you burn. Once you start using a pedometer and you have an idea of the number of steps you take each day, you can change your daily routine to add more steps for a healthier, more active lifestyle.

How many steps should I be taking each day?

Experts recommend that healthy adults take at least 10,000 steps per day, which is about 5 miles. People tend to underestimate how many steps they take in a day. When they begin to monitor their steps using a pedometer many people are surprised to see that they’re nowhere near the 10,000 steps per day they are told to strive for.

While 10,000 steps per day is the ultimate goal, steady progress increasing your number of steps week by week is the way to go. Using a pedometer increases physical activity by about one mile of walking per day in comparison to those who do not use a pedometer. Anything you can do to increase the number of steps you take in a day will have a positive effect on your health.

How do I choose a pedometer?

Pedometers started out as simple devices that had to be worn on your belt or waistband, parallel to the ground, to get an accurate reading. These days they can be worn on the wrist with colorful bands in a number of styles, and they track much more than just steps (think minutes of rigorous physical activity, flights of stairs climbed, and sleep patterns, for example).

Do some research online, talk to family and friends, and check with your healthcare team to figure out which device meets your needs. If you’re looking for a starting place, this independent review provides details on devices at all price points based on various categories. Most smartphones now have the technology to track and map out your physical activity, and since many people carry their phones around all day, you might not even need a new device!

I’m ready to use my pedometer. Now what?

If you’re ready to take your first step with your new gadget, we’re ready to help you get started. Guidelines for using a pedometer are really quite simple, but be sure to check out the instructions for your particular device.

It’s only a small change to your regular day. Setting a step goal with your pedometer is important. Here are a few easy tips to get you going:

  • Put on your pedometer first thing in the morning and take it off last thing at night. Some devices, like the Fitbit Flex, can be worn at night to track sleep patterns, too.
  • Determine how many steps you’re currently taking each day. Start wearing your pedometer each day for a week or two without changing your normal routine. Record your steps each day in a journal to keep track of your progress. Certain devices sync up with apps on your mobile device or computer to track your progress for you automatically.
  • Set your first goal for daily steps. Look back at the number of steps you took during the past week or two. Use the highest number of steps taken in a single day as your first goal. Aim towards taking that same number of steps for the next two weeks and be sure to log your steps each night.
  • Increase your goal by 500 steps after two weeks. At the end of two weeks  add 500 more steps to your daily goal. In two more weeks, add another 500 steps. Continue to add 500 steps to your goal every two weeks until you achieve your ultimate goal, whether that is 10,000 steps per day or more.

As we know, things don’t always go according to plan. Here are a few tips help you keep on track:

  • Review your progress each week. If adding 500 steps every two weeks doesn’t work for you, try adding 250 steps instead. Everyone responds to increases in activity differently, and it may take you longer to get used to physical activity.
  • Keep your walking routine interesting. Find a walking buddy, create exercise-friendly playlists on your iPod, or try walking in a mall or on a track instead of your usual route.
  • Wear proper footwear and monitor your feet daily. With all of the extra walking, your feet are more prone to trauma and injury. Be sure to wear supportive footwear and keep an eye on how your feet are responding to the increased exercise.
  • You may need to skip a day here or a few days there. Life happens, as does illness, fatigue, and other obligations. Get back to your exercise routine as soon as you can, but realize that you are human, not a machine.
  • If you have any concerns about pain or discomfort you may be feeling, contact your doctor immediately. Pain can be a warning sign that something may be wrong.

Can using a pedometer really improve my health?

While more research is needed to say whether or not these devices can improve your numbers or shrink your waistline, using pedometers or other activity-monitoring devices has been associated with a significant increase in physical activity.

You will see benefits from just small increases in your daily step counts. Keeping your number of steps right in front of you can be the inspiration you need to take the stairs instead of the elevator, be ok with parking farther away at the grocery store, and walking to your co-workers cubicle rather than sending an instant message. And remember, it takes an average of sixty-six days to form a new habit, so be patient with yourself.

Every person is different, so remember to check with your doctor before starting any exercise routine.

Sources

Baskerville, R., Ricci-Cabello, I., Roberts, N., and Farmer, A.  “Impact of accelerometer and pedometer use on physical activity and glycaemic control in people with Type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” Diabetic Medicine, (2017). doi: 10.1111/dme.13331

Bassett Jr., D. R., Toth, L. P., LaMunion, S. R., and Crouter, S. E. “Step counting: A review of measurement considerations and health-related applications.” Sports Medicine, (2016). doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0663-1.

Canning, K. L., Brown, R. E., Jamnik, V. K., Salmon, A., Ardern, C. I., and Kuk, J. L. “Individuals underestimate moderate and vigorous intensity physical activity.” PLoS ONE, 9 no. 5, (2014): 397927.

Finkelstein, E. A., Haaland, B. A., Bilger, M., Sahasranaman, A., Sloan, R. A., Nang, E. E. K., and Evenson, K. R. “Effectiveness of activity trackers with and without incentives to increase physical activity (TRIPPA): A randomized controlled trial.” Diabetes & Endocrinology, 4, no. 12 (2016): 983-995.

Jakicic, J. M., Davis. K. K., and Rogers, R. J. “Effect of wearable technology combined with a lifestyle intervention on long-term weight loss: The IDEA randomized clinical trial.” JAMA, 316, no. 11 (2016): 1161-1171.

Gordon, B. “The best pedometers of 2017. Top Ten Reviews.” Last modified March 6, 2017.
http://www.toptenreviews.com/electronics/health/best-pedometers/.

Qiu, S., Cai, X., Chen, X., Yang, B., and Sun, Z. “Step counter use in type 2 diabetes: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” BMC Medicine, 12 no. 36 (2013).

Zhang, J., Brackbill, D., Yang, S., Becker, J., Herbert, N., and Centola, D. (2016). “Support or competition? How online social networks increase physical activity: A randomized controlled trial.” Preventive Medicine Reports, 4, (2016): 453-458.

Updated by Julia Telfer, 3/17.


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