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Pedometer Power

By David Mendosa

Last Update: August 14, 2003

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommended in September 2002 that all of us get at least one hour of moderately intense physical activity each day to maintain cardiovascular health. We can get it all at once or spread out in shorter segments.

It's just a nice round number. That's the beauty of it.

For some of us that's too much to keep track of. Besides, gadgets are fun, and 60 minutes of exercise happens to be close to 10,000 steps. That means using one of the new electronic pedometers that will automatically count those steps can be just the trick.

The idea of walking 10,000 steps every day started out as a Japanese fad known as "manpo-kei," which means "10,000-step meters" in Japanese. This simple idea of setting 10,000 steps as your daily goal is already the exercise program pushed by HealthPartners, a Minnesota managed care company, and by the Cooper Clinic in Dallas. It also seems that everyone from Prevention Magazine to The New York Times is writing about it.

If 10,000 steps sounds like a lot, it might help to know that the average person already walks about 3,000 to 5,000 steps a day. To double that really doesn't take much. Be sure to start gradually and add a few steps a day.

Just a few changes in your routine will help a lot. You can think of several that fit your lifestyle, but start with these:

  • Park your car farther away from the door at the shopping center or at your office.

  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator.

  • On long drives take frequent rest stops to walk for 15 minutes or so.

  • Instead of killing time while waiting for an appointment, take a walk.

  • Take your dog for more frequent walks (if you don't have a dog, get one).

How far do we walk when we take 10,000 steps? It depends on the length of your stride. But for most of us it's a bit over 5 miles.

There's no magic in it. It's just a nice round number. That's the beauty of it.

"It's inexpensive, low-tech, and doesn't require any expertise," says Catrine Tudor-Locke, research assistant professor at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. "You just snap it on and look at it every now and then."

Even though I already had two old-style mechanical pedometers, I bought one of the new electronic devices. Unlike their mechanical cousins, the newer electronic versions are extremely accurate. The pedometer I bought never seems to miss a step.

Accuracy is highest when you just measure the number of steps. It's when you go to convert steps to miles that you lose some precision. But that's a conversion that you really don't need to make.

Anyway, I just check my pedometer at the end of the day to see if I met my goal. Please excuse me now while I collect some of today's 10,000 steps.  

The American Diabetes Association originally published this article on its Web site as one of my “About the Internet” columns.

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