How to Use a Pedometer Properly

In last week's column, I mentioned that a pedometer, a small device that is clipped to your waistband, is a relatively inexpensive way of getting enough exercise throughout the day even if you don't do structured forms of exercise like sports, going to the gym, or taking aerobic classes.

A pedometer or digimeter (as it is sometimes called) counts how many steps you take in a given period. It can do this because it has a horizontal lever inside that senses the vertical motions (like walking or running) your body makes.

Pedometers do a fairly good job of counting your steps but are not as accurate when calculating your distance and number of calories you have burned even if you enter in data like your stride length and weight. Most pedometers will vary by about 10 percent in calculating your distance.

Pedometers can count your steps while walking, running, or hiking if they have these features although it can be inaccurate if you hike over rugged terrain.

For a pedometer to accurately count the number of steps you take, it has to remain in an upright, vertical position so most manufacturers encourage you to clip the device to your waistband in line with the crease of your pants. If you have a big tummy, experts suggest clipping it on your waistband directly under your armpit or even behind. If you have a high waist, try clipping it to your shoe.

A pedometer's price ranges from 10-100 dollars. You can find a simple but reasonably accurate one (remember it is best at counting steps) between 15-30 dollars (local sporting good stores carry them). Here are some tips to consider:

* If you are going to wear it all day, it should be comfortable against your skin.

* It should clip firmly to your waistband or belt. No use buying a pedometer that will fall out if you bend down to pick up something.

* If you wear reading glasses, it should have a display big enough to read without having to always reach for your spectacles.

* You should be able to read the display without removing it from your waistband.

* It should have a display cover; otherwise, you might press the buttons accidentally and erase all your data for the day.

* Unless you enjoy using a device with all the "bells and whistles," stick to the simplest model you can find. You might spend a lot of time going back to the manual to figure out what to do next.

Even though pedometers are relatively inexpensive, you may want to find out about warranties and after-sales service in case your pedometer gets broken or doesn't work properly. If you don't want to hassle with all that, just buy a new one if something goes wrong.

The simplest pedometers count your steps and distance. The fancier ones have calorie estimates, stopwatches, timers, speed estimators and a seven-day memory. Now, if you want to get really fancy, there are pedometers that will take your pulse and body fat percentage. If you are lonely, there are talking pedometers that will tell you how far you have walked and how many steps you have taken. Next thing you know, they'll be making one that dispenses advice for your love life.

Avid golfers can buy golf pedometers that keep track of their score. People who are always getting lost can actually buy a pedometer with a built-in GPS or Global Positioning System (it costs about $100). Music fans can avail of a pedometer with an FM radio. The most useful accessory, in my opinion, of any pedometer is the "panic alarm." According to the manufacturer, this particular pedometer will emit a piercing wail, similar to that of a car alarm, when the pin is detached from the unit. I think it's a must for anyone who likes to take long walks alone.

How to use your pedometer to lose weight
Here are the steps to take according to weight loss experts who have successfully used pedometers in their programs:

* Use your pedometer for one week without changing your activity level. Just do what you always do. Every night before sleeping, write down how many steps you took that day. At the end of the week, get your average. This is your baseline.

* Ask yourself how you can increase the number of steps you take by 10-20 percent.

* You be the judge of how fast you can increase the number of steps you take until you reach 10,000-15,000 steps a day.

* If it's your first time to use a pedometer and discover that you are already taking 10,000 steps but you are overweight, either increase the speed at which you walk or increase the number of steps. There have been cases of people needing to walk 18,000 steps to lose weight, usually because they did not want to make changes in their eating habits.

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