A Little More Each Day

One working mama learning to run & to maintain my 100+ pound weight loss!

One Step at a Time: Increasing daily activity with a pedometer

on September 10, 2013

When I started on this journey to a healthier lifestyle, I couldn’t imagine running as my primary form of exercise. That was too overwhelming for me at 275 pounds and I know it is intimidating for a lot of people. Where I started, and what I recommend when anyone asks me how to get started with exercise, is with a pedometer. A pedometer is a small electronic device (or app on your smart phone, if you like) that measures the number of steps you take during the day. I started with a pedometer because there is lots of data from several independent research studies (i.e. not just one group trying to sell you on their personal method) that show the benefits of pedometers in helping people to increase their daily physical activity. Pedometers have been shown to help motivate people to increase the number of steps they take during the day, by making them more aware of their physical activity and by giving them a more attainable goal that the sometimes intimidating daily exercise recommendations that come from the American Heart Association and other groups. Studies have shown that women are more likely to increase their daily step count than to get 30 minutes of exercise a day and importantly, that increasing your number of steps each day can be just as beneficial! Increasing your number of steps each day, even if you don’t get to that frequently quoted “10,000 steps a day” number, has been associated with decreased weight, decreased BMI, decreased waist circumference and decreased waist-hip ratio, all of which are important anthropometric markers of cardiovascular disease risk. One study in sedentary overweight women showed that this benefit was present incrementally with each increase in your step count over your baseline, regardless of where you started and regardless of the total step count achieved! (See the studies below if you’re a science geek like me) More and more recent data is showing the importance of habitual physical activity, beyond just the 30 minutes of aerobic exercise we should be getting each day. It turns out, running for an hour and then sitting at my desk for the rest of the day isn’t good enough.

With this in mind, I started off with a relatively cheap but accurate pedometer (Omron HJ-112 according to my Amazon purchase history – I remember it being about $20) and measured my baseline step count for a week. I started off at about 3000 steps a day, on average (although I vividly remember being shocked at one weekend day where I had less than a thousand steps!). My goal was to increase my steps by 500 steps/day each week until I got up to 10,000 steps a day.  Going for 10,000 steps a day right off the bat would have been overwhelming and discouraging, so I’m glad I started small and definitely recommend this approach.

Some ways I got in the extra 500 steps a day:

– Parking farther away (always recommended because it works!)

– Shopping for groceries in the order I wrote the list down, rather than buying all the things in one section of the store at once: This one really helped a lot, even if I did sometimes feel silly crossing Hy-Vee back and forth several times!

– Walking around the block after dinner, or before I go in to daycare to get O, or stopping at a park on the way home (always keep tennis shoes in the car!)

– Walking to the mailbox rather than stopping by when I drove home

– Walking in place while watching TV at night: I felt silly to start with, but when I had a step target to hit by bedtime, I wasn’t going to miss it! It was like doing the Walk Away the Pounds DVDs (which I like) but without Leslie.

It is really amazing how quickly you can accumulate tiny chunks of physical activity – a lot easier than blocking out a big chunk of time to work out! We also found that this translated to more activity in our leisure time as well. Instead of watching movies all day on the weekend, we’d go play miniature golf or go to the zoo or go to the park. As I got farther along in my exercise journey, my husband and I would actually compete to see who got the most steps each day. We also set up a virtual race to our last vacation, where we each had to get between 9000-10,000 steps each day in order to “walk” from Nebraska to Florida. There are online trackers that will allow you to track and graph your steps (I used SparkPeople for this initially) and Weight Watchers has an option where you can translate daily steps into Activity Points.

A little over a year ago, I started using a FitBit, which is a more expensive pedometer than the Omron but has some interesting extra features. I had a FitBit Ultra for about a year and just replaced it with a FitBit One when the Ultra started falling apart. The FitBit (totally non-sponsored post, just what I personally have) tracks your steps for the day, flights of stairs and estimates a calorie burn for the day based on the weight and age you input and your activity level that it measures (Jawbone Up is a similar product from a different manufacturer, and I’m sure there are others). It can also track your sleep, as far as how long it takes you fall asleep and how much you move around at night, if you’re interested in that. It is a lot smaller than the Omron I had before and I usually wear it clipped to my bra, where isn’t visible in most of my tops. You can also clip it to your pocket or waistband. I would move it to my shoe or shorts leg if I was doing something like the bike or elliptical, where it didn’t pick up “steps” as well.

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I love that the little flower grows the more active you are during the day! I’m easily motivated in some ways. 🙂 *This was after a long run, not my typical I promise!

The Ultra (my first FitBit) was hard plastic and eventually started to crack from being pulled on and off of clothes every day. The new FitBit One (pictured above) fits into a little neoprene sleeve and the sleeve clips to your clothes, so I’m guessing it will hold up better. We’ll see. These sync to your computer, which lets you track your activity level over time and compare your activity with any friends you link to your account. The FitBit One also syncs to the phone so you get little notifications throughout the day when you get close to your target (mine is currently set at 10,000 steps/day):

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Currently my least favorite thing with the FitBit One is dealing with its charger. On the plus side, the battery lasts for a couple of weeks without recharging but the dock for charging it is really tight! It’s hard to get the device situated in the charging dock correctly (mine sat in there for almost a day not charging because I hadn’t seated it firmly enough) and is even harder to get out when it is done charging! You can charge it with the USB hooked into your computer or into a universal adapter like I have here.

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There are also a ton of free pedometer apps that you can get for your smart phone which would work if you (like me) always have your phone in reach.

Anything that gets you motivated to move a little more each day is a step in the right direction!

*Recent papers about pedometers for any science geeks out there:

“Exercise training and habitual physical activity: A randomized controlled trial” DL Swift et al. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Dec 2012, 43(6).

“Effect of physical activity intervention based on a pedometer on physical activity level and anthropometric measures after childbirth: A randomized controlled trial” MS Maturi et al. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 2011; 11:103.

“The effects of an incremental approach to 10,000 steps a day on metabolic syndrome components in sedentary overweight women” A Musto et al. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. Nov 2010, 7(6).

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13 responses to “One Step at a Time: Increasing daily activity with a pedometer

  1. leannenalani says:

    I’m totally obsessed with my FitBit One. These things are so great. My clip holder wore out pretty quickly from pulling it off and on my jeans pockets, but luckily I had an extra and they sell all that stuff on the website. 🙂

  2. […] activity each day. I’ve already talked about how much I love and use my pedometer every day (One Step At a Time) but today I thought I’d also touch on some of the non-running activities I’ve tried. Some of […]

  3. […] One Step at a Time: Increasing daily activity with a pedometer […]

  4. […] out the American Heart Association Start Walking site here and my prior posts on getting started walking with a pedometer and non-running workouts […]

  5. […] with the calorie burn each day. Like I talked about in my earlier post on getting started with my pedometer, I’ll plan on adding 500 steps to my goal each week until I get to 10,000 steps a day again. […]

  6. […] being less efficient is the best way for me to get to 10,000 steps for the […]

  7. […] Activity monitors: It’s no secret I love my FitBit (and sort of hate that I “waste” all of the steps I take before I put it on in the […]

  8. […] where I’m really good about getting more walking in my day, from my love affair with my FitBit to crazy tricks like walking around the grocery store in the order of my list instead of in the […]

  9. […] While I’m running a lot now, that isn’t always going to be the case. I may not be training as intensely or I may get injured. A pedometer helps me keep moving even on days I don’t run, because just getting those steps has value (see more on that here). […]

  10. […] One Step at a Time: Increasing daily activity with a pedometer […]

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