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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Exercise

Pedometers help couch potatoes step up activity

Eileen Yager, Communications Officer, Extension & Ag Information, University of Missouri,

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 Missouri.

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 said.

Pedometers can help both adults and children measure their activity, said Ball, who is working to introduce pedometers into Missouri schools to promote physical fitness.

“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 they’re taking.”

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





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