Pathetically Painful Pedometer Passion

Years ago I was chosen to take part in a study conducted by Walking Magazine (no longer in publication) and a large research hospital. Instructions were simple: Here is a pedometer - wear it for three months and keep track of your steps. A few months after this study, the United States Surgeon General announced walking 10,000 steps per day is enough to keep your weight in check and promote a "healthy lifestyle". (If you think 10,000 steps a staggering amount, a study from Harvard University found 6,000 steps a day was sufficient.)

From what I can remember of this long-ago survey, there were days when I wouldn't walk as much as 3,000 steps and days when I would easily go over 10,000 - but the average was only about 6,000. In order to get up to the recommended 10,000 steps, I had to "go for a walk". Of course, that was the point - TO GET AMERICA MOVING! The average person will cover 5 miles in 10,000 steps. (Little me, at 5 feet tall and a teeny 2.25-foot stride covers 4.25 miles. Isn't that pathetic?)

It's not shopping - it's exercise!

After the survey, I kept wearing the pedometer and the results of my activity exactly correlate to my over-all well-being and weight. When steps were up, I felt better and the weight went down. (No need to go into what happens when the step count is low.) At first I would chart my steps, miles and calories burned, but after a while I learned how many steps I needed to feel good - 12,000. On a long driving day in the RV, it is nearly impossible to clock 10,000 steps unless you go for a very long walk after setting up camp for the night. Some days it is a struggle, some days I can clock the steps without even "exercising". A trip to Costco can really get the pedometer clicking - and even cruising the aisles at the supermarket registers an amazing amount of steps. A walk through a museum, zoo, or Disneyland will have your pedometer spinning!

Walking is a good way to get moving. No memberships to buy. Nothing special to wear except a good pair of NIKE's. If you want to use a pedometer - they are cheap and last for years. I kept wearing the pedometer from the Walking Magazine survey - I can't tell you how many times I dropped it, etc., yet it kept going for years.

These days I wear the teeny Fitbit One. The rechargeable Fitbit One works just as well as a non-electric pedometer, but it can sync to my computer/iPhone so I can easily track my weekly/monthly/annual progress. It also tracks flights of stairs climbed, and has an option to track your sleep patterns as well.

Though pedometers are sold at most large retailers, do some research before making the purchase. A poor quality unit can be inaccurate to 25% percent. Shop at a specialty sporting goods or running store or order from the great selection at amazon.com.

When choosing a pedometer I recommend one that not only counts steps, but that allows you to measure your stride to calculate your mileage. (This is a one-time procedure, it just takes a minute and it is fun to watch your miles add-up.) Make sure it has a "leash" - an extra strap to secure the unit to your waistband. (A pedometer in the toilet is not a pretty sight.)

Wear a pedometer for a few weeks* and learn how many steps you take on an average day. Then figure out how to increase your activity. Take the stairs, don't use your car, or park a few blocks from your destination - on purpose! If you are on the phone, walk and talk at the same time. Your dog will love going an extra mile with you. Bribe and reward yourself: I won't have a glass of wine unless I have walked 10,000 steps BEFORE dinner. Yes, you may be spotted frantically circling the kitchen island or the RV park at 6:30 pm... but the reward will taste better for your deserved efforts. And take a day-off once in a while - have a pedicure.

Get moving!


12-week program from The Mayo Clinic

12-week program from Spark Medical

Ways to increase steps from The Walking Site

Intense walk+diet plan from Prevention Magazine

6-week beginner plan from American Heart Association (PDF)

*Always check with your doctor before beginning a new fitness program.