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What are the benefits of stepping out with pedometers?

The benefits of exercise are well known. Decreased risk of and management of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, improvements in bone density, decreases in blood pressure, reduction in certain types of cancer, increases in muscle strength and endurance, alleviation of symptoms of depression, and elevation of mood are just some.

The quantity of exercise necessary to accrue these benefits is also well known. There are two national recommendations to choose from. First, the Surgeon General recommends 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity on five or more days per week to improve health and fitness. You can accumulate it in 10- to 15-minute bouts throughout the day or do it all at once. "Moderate intensity" physical activity means you feel warm and slightly out of breath when you do it. And second, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends a more formal, workout prescription of 20-60 minutes of continuous activity, three to five times a week (at 60-90% of maximum heart rate reserve) and two to three days of resistance training.

Thirty minutes of exercise is good for you, but objective measurement of how much activity you actually do can be elusive. Research shows that it's possible to overestimate your activity level or calorie expenditure by as much as 51%! Overestimating your activity or calorie expenditure level can have undesirable consequences; it can mislead you into thinking that you're doing enough physical activity to improve your health or that you're doing enough activity to burn off extra calories from a weekend binge. Overestimation of physical activity is also a problem for exercise scientists; subjects who overestimate their activity level confound the results of research.

Pedometers provide objective measurement of physical activity and are one potential remedy to the problem of inaccurate activity recall. They can also be fun!

In this article, I'll review how pedometers work, how to use one, how accurate they are, how many steps are good for you, and where to buy one.


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