Sunday, June 03, 2012

Will walk for feedback

I ask all my patients about their personal exercise routines. They often answer that while they do no exercise, they are "extremely active" all day at work. I encourage them to wear pedometers in order to gauge just how active they are. One dismayed lady tried it out, then wailed in a follow-up email "There are only three steps between my desk and the file cabinet!". Not such a whirlwind at work after all.

Researchers in New Zealand decided to see if sedentary seniors could be persuaded to move more if equipped with encouragement and a pedometer(1). One group of geezers (geezettes too!) were given step-counting gadgets along with exercise counseling and follow-up phone calls to set ever greater step-counting goals. A control group were counseled and called but were not issued any freebie pedometers.

At the end of a year, both groups had significantly increased their leisure walking, proving that mere encouragement and phone calls are useful interventions. The pedometered seniors, however, doubled their extra walk-time compared with the unmetered oldsters. Blood pressures dropped in both groups. No surprise--this step-counting strategy works in middle-aged ladies as well(2).

I've been through multiple pedometers in multiple years. I've lost more than a few--in a cab, a nail salon, into the toilet. I've tossed out several due to inaccuracy; so sensitive to motion, they registered any shift of position. I currently wear a Fitbit designed to remain true to step count even if stuffed in a pocket. It also has a flower that gains more leaves the more active you are.

If the Fitbit is too pricey for you, I encourage you to invest in a mid-range device. The Yamax SW701 Digi-Walker Pedometer has been trial-tested for accuracy.

1) Kolt, GS et al. Healthy Steps Trial: Pedometer-Based Advice and Physical Activity for Low-Active Older Adults. Ann Fam Med May/June 2012 vol. 10 no. 3 206-212.

2) Hultquist CN, Albright C, Thompson DL. Comparison of walking recommendations in previously inactive women. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2005;37(4):676–683.