Over the last couple of years, we've heard a lot of talk about pedometers, specifically that they can help people lose weight and increase their daily activity level. Billed as sort-of miracle energy counters, the devices are supposed to keep wearers honest about how much walking they actually do.
The truth is -- although wearing a pedometer can be a breakthrough way to get more calories burned during the day -- folks still have to work at it (while managing their weight).
To get the most from the devices, here are three things you should know.
* First, put the 10,000 steps a day philosophy in perspective. Most pedometer programs encourage you to take that many steps a day because the number is supposedly representative of people who are healthy, fit and walking enough to manage their weight.
The problem: Unless you deliberately walk a few miles a day for exercise, you probably will not reach anywhere close to 10,000 steps during regular daily activity. In fact, if you try to reach 10,000 steps the first day you wear a pedometer, you might end up taking three to four times the amount of steps you normally take, which is a huge increase in activity.
Taking that many steps too soon can make you sore and tired and possibly increase your risk of injury. So instead of shooting for 10,000 steps the first day or week, simply wear the pedometer for two or three days and keep track of the average amount of steps you take each day without doing anything special to change your activity level.
If you take an average of 3,000 steps a day when you first begin wearing your pedometer, try to increase the amount of steps 10% to 15% beyond that in the first week, which would be an increase of 300 to 450 steps a day. This is not only more realistic but also is achievable without immediately having to make a significant change to your activity level.
* Second, don't become too preoccupied with distance. When people wear a pedometer, they are always interested in how far their steps have taken them, specifically how many miles. Even though some pedometers "convert" your steps into miles, there is a more accurate and simple way to figure out how far you have walked.
Wearing a pedometer, walk a lap around the track of a local high school. Pay attention to how many steps it takes you to complete the lap. Multiply that number by four, and you have your steps per mile based on actual stride, rather than a formula that might not be correct or stride-length calculations that might be off.
For example, I take 450 steps every quarter mile, which means I take about 1,800 steps to reach a mile. That number of steps may be a lot fewer than someone shorter than me might take when walking the same distance. In fact, a best friend of mine takes 600 steps to achieve a quarter mile, which is 2,400 steps per mile. Quite a difference.
* And finally, don't worry about accomplishing all the steps in a specific time period.
When people first wear a pedometer, they often try to rack up as many steps as they can in a 15-, 20- or 30-minute workout. But the beauty of the pedometer is that it lets you accumulate steps throughout the day, possibly helping avoid a traditional workout.
Try taking 500 to 700 steps an hour during your workday. One simple way to accomplish this is by taking all your work calls standing up and pacing the room while you talk. This will ultimately burn the same amount of calories as accumulating your steps all at once would, but it won't feel like exercise -- a real bonus.
Ultimately, pedometers might well be the most effective tool in motivating people to stay more active during the day without having to devote a chunk of time to specific, intentional exercise. They show actual activity level -- and help motivate wearers improve their fitness level.
Jay Blahnik, a Laguna Beach-based personal trainer, has appeared in more than 25 videos and is the author of "Full-Body Flexibility." Although he cannot answer all questions, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.