Step-wise to better health

Research using pedometers generally falls into two types: surveillance and intervention. Surveillance research only monitors the walking activity of the persons, including children and the elderly. These types of studies are only interested in the pedometer as a step-counter. On the other hand, intervention research makes use of other properties of pedometers that influence the wearer’s behaviour. In that case, pedometers are not just monitors; they truly reflect your minute-to-minute activity throughout the day. If you have barely moved from your desk all morning, they let you know it, thereby providing valuable feedback. Furthermore, pedometers count all your steps, not just the ones taken during “exercise”. Knowing how low your activity is can be really motivating to do more, especially in the context of a structured intervention.

Can a simple, low-cost device actually improve the health and fitness of our population, which is increasingly sedentary and overweight? According to 26 studies where more than 2,500 people had to use a pedometer during 4 to 26 weeks, the use of a pedometer can help increasing the number of steps of about 25% and reach a significant decrease in BMI3. Since this involves devoting 20-30 minutes or more per day to being physically active, it is a good way to help people achieve the recommendations laid down by Canada’s Physical Activity Guide to Healthy, Active Living. Furthermore, since the majority of people cite walking as a preferred activity, they can find in the use of a pedometer an invaluable “guilty conscience” that inspires them to increase their walking activities.

Author :Catherine B. Chan, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Physiology and Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Sciences, University of Alberta


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Bravata, D.M., et al., Using pedometers to increase physical activity and improve health. A systematic review. J Am Med Assoc, 2007. 298(19): p. 2296-2304.