Walking with pedometer spurs modest weight loss
By Amy Norton
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People who strap on a pedometer and strive to walk more each day can probably expect to lose a modest amount of weight, a research analysis suggests.
Pedometers are small devices usually worn at the waist that count the number of steps a person takes. People can use them during one long walk, or throughout the day to see how many steps they accumulate. A commonly recommended goal is to take 10,000 steps each day.
However, some experts have doubted how effective pedometer-based approaches can be; people who rely on counting steps may, for example, never get their heart rate up or never walk for any long distance.
On the other hand, some new exercisers may have unrealistically high expectations about how much weight they'll lose simply by taking more steps each day.
The new findings, based on an analysis of nine previous studies, suggest that moderate expectations are wise.
"What we found was that on average, a person who starts a pedometer-based walking program does lose a modest amount of weight by the end of the program, and that the longer the program lasts, the more weight they can expect to lose," said lead researcher Dr. Caroline R. Richardson of the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor.
Of course, Richardson pointed out, people vary in their weight-loss success, and some participants in these studies may have shed a substantial number of pounds, while others may have actually gained some.
The nine studies included a total of 307 men and women, according to the report published in Annals of Family Medicine. In some studies, participants were given a pedometer and a daily step goal; in others, they received a pedometer and counseling sessions or group meetings to help them along their exercise path. The programs lasted anywhere from one month to one year.
When the researchers combined the study data, they found that exercisers lost about 1 pound every 10 weeks, or about 5 pounds in a year.
So should walkers invest in a pedometer? Richardson pointed out that a 20-minute walk is roughly equivalent to 2,000 steps, and it should make no difference whether a person chooses to measure a workout in terms of time or steps.
"Walking is walking is walking," she said. "The more you do the healthier you will be."
"However," she added, "for some people, the feedback from the pedometer, which is continuous positive reinforcement for walking throughout the day, is a very potent motivator."
It's not clear yet whether walkers generally do better or worse with pedometers than with simple time-based goals. Richardson said she and her colleagues just completed a study in which they considered this question and are in the process of analyzing the data.
SOURCE: Annals of Family Medicine, January/February 2008.