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The Moving Crew

Walking Proof

Tuesday, April 19, 2005; Page HE03

You've heard us breeze by this one before: "Studies show that people who use pedometers walk more than those who don't," we say and, presumably, you trust us. But how many of you act on this wisdom? We have no clue, chiefly because we haven't installed obey-o-meters on all of you (though we have been soliciting bids from suppliers).

So our next-best weapon is to share a study published in the April issue of the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise showing that middle-age, out-of-shape women who wore pedometers and were instructed to take at least 10,000 steps per day walked more than those who were told to take a brisk 30-minute walk "on most, preferably all days of the week" (awkward wording courtesy of federal exercise recommendations).

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The researchers, from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, compared the two exercise strategies because prior studies revealed that adding a 30-minute walk to daily activities yields about 10,000 steps per day.

All 58 women in the study were "generally overweight" (average body mass index of around 29; healthy is up to 25, obese is 30 and over). Ages ranged from 39 to 51. All were fairly sedentary before the study, walking an average of 5,760 steps per day.

"That equates to what most people would consider normal," said Dixie Lee Thompson, lead investigator and director of the center for wellness and physical activity and health at the university. "You are doing stuff all day, you're busy, but you're not exactly active."

Over the four-week study, the 31 women in the pedometer group averaged 10,159 steps per day while the 27 brisk walkers averaged 8,270 steps. (The brisk walkers wore pedometers, too, but only the researchers could see the readouts on their devices.) On days the 10,000-steppers met their target, they averaged 11,775 steps, compared with the 9,505 steps the brisk walkers took on days they met their goal. Even on sub-target days, the pedometer-wearers outwalked the 30-minute group by about 2,000 paces.

The researchers noted that the brisk walkers had to block out time for a continuous 30-minute march while the pedometricians were free to walk however long -- and whenever -- they wanted. This reiterates our frequent message that breaking the daily exercise effort into small chunks will help some people move more consistently.

Those in the 10,000-step group also were told not to worry about intensity, while the other subjects were told to walk briskly -- an order that may have dissuaded some from hitting the pavement on occasion. Perhaps for this reason, four women dropped out of the brisk-marcher group, while none of the step-counters quit.

Participants in the pedometer group offered widely varying reports on how they accumulated the added steps every day. When they met their target, they typically reported taking a deliberate walk lasting from 10 to 75 minutes.

Thompson, like many researchers, credits pedometers with motivating walkers. The devices provide "a continual reminder of how close you are to your daily goal."

The researchers did not measure caloric expenditure, but Thompson says she suspects the differences were minor: Neither group lost significant weight during the trial. But all the women saw drops in their systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Pedometers cost around $20 to $45; a good Web site with reviews and prices is walking.about.com/cs/measure/tp/pedometer.htm. Clip yours on and amble into the Moving Crew chat room, this Thursday at 11 a.m. at www.washingtonpost.com.

-- John Briley


© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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