One of today's hottest exercise devices fits in your pocket, costs about $25 and is so simple a child can use it.
Electronic pedometers have become increasingly popular "movement motivators" in health promotion programs, including weight loss clinics and physical education classes. The palm-sized gadgets clip onto your waistband and record the number of steps you take, with more sophisticated models also calculating distance covered and calories burned.
The goal for good health, many experts say, is to accumulate 10,000 steps per day.
Watch Your Step
"People love it because they get immediate feedback on how active, or inactive, they are," says David Bassett, an associate professor of exercise science at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
The Japanese have used electronic pedometers for more than a decade to help counteract sedentary lifestyles, Bassett notes. Nicknamed "manpo-kei," which means "10,000 steps meter" in Japanese, the devices were brought to the United States in the mid-1990s by exercise scientists who used them to determine daily activity levels in research studies.
Most sedentary people take only about 3,000 steps per day, says Bassett, and "they must make a concerted effort to get 10,000." These steps can be accumulated in formal exercise programs or through lifestyle activities such as climbing stairs or walking to do errands.
Walking = Workout
Lifestyle activities can provide health benefits similar to a traditional gym-based workout, according to a study performed at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas. The study, called "Project Active," used the simplest kind of pedometera step counterto record and motivate participants in the "lifestyle activity" group, says project director Andrea Dunn.
"People put them on first thing in the morning and take them off right before bed," Dunn says. "If it's mid-day and you only have 3,000 steps, you know you've got to get moving to reach your goal." While 10,000 steps per day will meet most recommendations for adequate physical activity, Dunn says, it may be too high a number for some people and too low for others.
"If you're only getting 2,000 steps a day it may be unrealistic to go immediately to 10,000," she says. "People who have a weight problem may need to target closer to 15,000 to 18,000 steps per day to lose [weight] or maintain weight loss."
Good for Kids
The devices can be particularly motivating for children, says Teresa Vollenweider, whose Kansas City, Mo., fitness equipment company, New Life Styles, sells pedometers plus teaching materials. "The kids can get very competitive to see who gets the most steps," she says.
But pedometers do have limits. They don't record intensity, so there's no way to tell whether steps are taken running or strolling. And they don't work with non-weight-bearing activities like cycling, swimming or rowing.