Are you looking for a last-minute gift for a health-conscious friend or loved one? Or possibly an idea for someone you wish was more health-conscious? This season, give a gift that actively encourages heart-healthy living. Think about providing someone with a pedometer.
What is it?
Pedometers are small devices that can be worn on the belt, around the waist, or even on the wrist, which count the number of steps the wearer takes throughout a day. While pedometers used to be pretty boring and basic, the ones made today are sophisticated modern gadgets. Many can differentiate walking steps from running steps and can tell routine walking from sustained exercise. Some can even count how many stair-steps you have climbed—while the latest and greatest can even keep track of the quality of your sleep!
Most pedometers come with software that allows you to create logs of your activity, including graphical analyses of your steps at different times throughout the day. A few will automatically upload such an activity log to a smartphone or your laptop for additional analysis.
Why a pedometer?
So why give a pedometer and not, say, a heart-healthy cookbook? The key is biofeedback. Biofeedback is a scientific term describing the process by which real-time data about our bodies leads us to change our subsequent lifestyle behaviors, usually in a positive way. Pedometers, unlike cookbooks, take a fundamental aspect of human nature—our competitiveness—and make it work in the service of health!
Humbling at first
When you first start using a pedometer, you realize how little you move in a typical workday—this realization can be humbling. I start by teaching my patients that 10,000 steps are the equivalent of approximately 5 miles of walking. I then ask them to estimate how much they walk in a day. Most guess between 5,000 and 10,000 steps….and then they try a pedometer. More often than not, my patients find they are walking only about 2,500 steps in a day.
What happens next? Well, a lot of pedometer-wearers become motivated to walk more. It becomes fun. They buy their spouses, kids, and friends pedometers. Then they all start competing among themselves to see who can walk more. Nowadays, with social networking, you can share your walking progress with your friends and family online and set up contests. Talk about healthy competition!
Scientific research has shown that pedometers increase how much we walk. This is the essence of biofeedback. Reaching 10,000 steps most days out of the week is associated with better fitness and weight loss—and people reach this goal more often with pedometers.
So, while pedometers used to be considered lame, they are now judged to be completely cool! They even come in a variety of colors to match your smartphone or laptop. The wireless versions require no additional time for transferring data. And once you have one, you will be shocked at how many people are already counting their steps!