DEAR DOCTOR K:
I try to take a walk every day, but I know I need to walk more if I want it to count as exercise. A friend suggested I buy a pedometer. What exactly is a pedometer, and do you think it’s useful?
A pedometer can motivate you to exercise. Practically everyone knows that exercise is good for you. Many people have heard that brisk exercise for at least 30 minutes, at least five times a week, is a healthy goal. But there are three things many of my patients don’t know. You may not, either.
First, people who exercise regularly have much lower rates of heart disease, several types of cancer, diabetes and other diseases. No medicine ever invented can protect you against disease as effectively as regular exercise.
Second, that 30 minutes of exercise doesn’t have to be so vigorous that it causes you to sweat and requires special clothes and showering afterward. A brisk walk at around 3 miles an hour (or a mile and a half in 30 minutes) will do the trick. That doesn’t cause most people to sweat.
Third, you don’t need to take those 30 minutes a day all at the same time. A 15-minute brisk walk from where you park your car to your workplace, twice a day, would do the trick. Or add in the minutes spent climbing stairs in your office building. The steps you take when you’re not “exercising” also count — even the times you get up from your desk and walk to the water cooler.
So that’s why you should exercise regularly. What is a pedometer, and how can it help? Pedometers are little devices that count the number of steps you take. A common exercise goal is 10,000 steps a day, or about five miles.
Most people take between 6,000 and 7,000 steps a day even if they don’t exercise. There’s evidence that pedometer users walk more than 2,000 additional steps each day than non-users, even if they don’t have a formal exercise program.
You can buy a good pedometer for as little as $25. There are two basic varieties: those with a mechanical sensor, and those with a high-tech or “smart” sensor. Pedometers with a mechanical sensor are less expensive, but also less accurate. They need to be kept perpendicular to the ground to count steps correctly, whereas the “smart” models work at any angle.
Pedometers with a mechanical sensor are usually sold as “hip” or “belt” pedometers. Pedometers with a high-tech sensor may be touted as “pocket” pedometers that can be worn at any angle.
Both types of pedometer come in versions that allow you to keep track of the distance you’ve traveled, the calories you’ve burned and your step counts for several days in a row. These extra features aren’t necessary, but they may give you additional motivation to protect your health through exercise.