Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and
Pedometers help couch potatoes step up activity
Eileen Yager, Communications Officer, Extension & Ag Information, University of Missouri, firstname.lastname@example.org
Pedometers – pager-sized gadgets that count steps and measure activity – could help even the laziest couch potato get moving, according to a University of Missouri expert.
“Pedometers give you a way to quantify the amount of
physical activity you are doing,” said Steve Ball, MU
Extension Fitness Specialist. “When people start wearing
them, they get motivated to get more steps in.”
Inactivity, along with diet, is contributing to the
escalating number of people who are overweight or obese,
Ball said. In Missouri, obesity among adults has nearly
doubled since 1990. More than one-fifth of the state’s
adults are obese. Nationally, obesity is estimated to cost
$117 billion dollars.
Individuals who are overweight are at greater risk for
certain types of cancers, high blood pressure, heart disease
and type 2 diabetes – the sixth leading cause of death in
Ball said even a moderate increase in physical activity
can reduce the risk of diseases resulting from poor health
habits. “The biggest benefit is going from sedentary to
mildly active,” he said.
The U.S. Surgeon General recommends that adults get at
least 30 minutes of moderate activity – equal to a brisk
walk – on most days. Children need 60 minutes of moderate to
vigorous activity per day.
Ball said the activities of daily living – yard work,
household chores or walking to work or school – count toward
these recommendations. “It’s just getting people moving,” he
Pedometers can help both adults and children measure
their activity, said Ball, who is working to introduce
pedometers into Missouri schools to promote physical
“Kids like gadgets,” he said. “Once they start using the
pedometer, the kids start to look at their own activities
outside of school.”
That benefit extends to parents. “What we’re finding is
that the parents become interested in the physical education
program, and they become interested in the number of steps
During the next three years, MU Extension will put 11,000
pedometers in Missouri schools through Jump into Action, a
curriculum to promote healthy lifestyles, including physical
activity and eating habits, and to reduce the risk of type 2
diabetes. The program is funded through a grant from the
Missouri Foundation for Health.
To get started using a pedometer, Ball recommends wearing
it for 24 hours over several days to establish a baseline
activity level. “Then set a goal of increasing that by 10
percent over the next two weeks,” he said. During that time,
keep a log of the number of steps, activity time and the
types of activities.
“Logging is the key thing,” he said. “What we know about
goals is that they have to be specific and quantifiable.”
Ball said to continually set new goals each time one is
met. “The novelty will wear off, but you’ll still be
thinking about it.”
Choosing a pedometer that provides an accurate reading is
crucial. “You’ll lose interest quickly if the numbers aren’t
accurate,” he said.
Ball recommends choosing a pedometer that tracks activity
time in addition to steps. The cost of those models is $20
to $25. Less expensive models that just count steps can be
purchased for about $10.
Sources: Steve Ball (573) 882-2334
Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009