The Moving Crew
Tuesday, June 15, 2004; Page HE03
Be honest. How active are you, really? More to the point, how long has it been since you put the matter to a more objective test?
We're talking, of course, about using gadgets. According to a study presented at the annual conference of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) earlier this month, overweight people increased the distance they walked every week when encouraged by their doctors. But they increased that distance even more when they wore a pedometer, or step counter.
But it's not just the usual suspects who get a slap of reality, and a healthy push, from a pedometer. Take college students, who, another study presented at the conference showed, walk less than pre-adolescents -- dispelling a common belief that college life is a (ahem) pedestrian existence.
In the first study, 94 overweight people (but not the college students), received a brief talk and a one-pager on the benefits of exercise during doctor routine visits. Each later received three follow-up calls from a health educator. But 50 of the participants also received pedometers.
Both groups -- the counseling-only group and the pedometer group -- reported increases in numbers of blocks walked, stairs climbed, days of walking at least 30 minutes and leisure walks. But the pedometer group reported greater increases in six of seven categories. Pedometer users walked 31 percent -- or about 2,000 steps -- more daily than they did previously. (Daily steps were not counted for the non-pedometer group).
Study co-author Steven Stovitz, a sports medicine physician and assistant professor in the University of Minnesota's Department of Family Practice and Community Health, noted that past research has not shown a clear benefit from physician counseling: Research shows that only about 40 percent of physicians counsel their overweight patients on the benefits of exercise.
"Our message to patients needs to be altered somewhat," Stovitz said, and should address the benefits of seemingly minor lifestyle changes, like walking very short distances. Pedometers enhance awareness of users' walking patterns and thus may benefit many overweight people, Stovitz said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people take 10,000 steps per day. ACSM urges Americans to walk for exercise at a moderate pace for 30 minutes a day. Walkers on average can cover a mile in 2,000 to 3,000 steps. Stovitz notes that 30 minutes of moderate walking equals about 4,000 steps.
Start where you can, and try to add 400 steps per day every week. "That would get you to 30 minutes of walking in 10 weeks." Those steps can come in small increments throughout the day and still be beneficial.
The college study, which involved 79 students at Oklahoma State University, found that they averaged 7,700 steps daily compared with the 11,000 to 13,000 steps taken on average by children ages 6 to 12.
Study author Becky Wilber, fitness center director at Tulsa Community College in Oklahoma, said that the walking that students do on campus is "still not enough." Wilber said the students ranged in age from 18 to 36, though most were between 18 and 22 years old.
No Moving Crew chat this week, but we're back at it next Thursday, June 24, at 11 a.m. on washingtonpost.com. In the meantime, share your fitness-related questions with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- John Briley
© 2004 The Washington Post Company