Pedometers Help People Take A Step To
pedometer, a small, inexpensive device that counts the number of steps
walked per day, could be key to ramping up a person's physical
at the Stanford University School of Medicine have found that the use
of a pedometer is associated with significant increases in physical
activity and weight loss and improvements in blood pressure.
to my surprise, these little devices were shown to increase physical
activity by just over 2,000 steps, or about 1 mile of walking per day,"
said the study's lead author, Dena Bravata, MD, MS, a senior research
scientist in medicine. "This goes a long way toward helping people meet
the national guidelines for daily physical activity."
two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese, according to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 45 percent of
Americans get enough physical activity. Guidelines from the Department
of Health and Human Services recommend that adults get at least 30
minutes of daily physical activity. Several organizations, such as the
nonprofit Shape Up America founded by former U.S. Surgeon General Dr.
C. Everett Koop, recommend that adults walk 10,000 steps each day.
recent years, pedometers have emerged as a popular tool that's easy to
use (clipped to a pocket or waistline) to count steps walked per day.
The devices are affordable, with many brands selling for as little as
$10 or $15. Some employers, like Chevron Corp., even provide pedometers
for free to workers who pledge to walk a certain number of steps each
a general internist, said she was curious whether she should recommend
pedometers to her patients, many of whom are not active enough.
"Improving health behaviors is the No. 1 thing I discuss during my
patients' routine visits, and I'm constantly seeking ways to get them
to exercise more," she said.
evaluate the effects of pedometers on physical activity and health
outcomes, Bravata and her colleagues reviewed more than 2,000 articles
and found 26 studies - 18 observational studies and eightrandomized
trials - that looked at the use of pedometers as a tool to motivate
physical activity. A total of 2,767 people participated in the studies;
most participants were female, overweight and relatively inactive
before they started their walking program.
walking programs evaluated in the studies varied considerably: 23
included a step goal and diary, in which participants recorded their
daily activity; 17 included physical activity counseling; and five took
place in the workplace. The mean study duration was 18 weeks.
and her team found that pedometer users in the randomized trials
increased their physical activity by 2,491 steps per day more than
participants who did not use pedometers. Among the observational
studies, pedometer users increased their physical activity by 2,183
steps per day over baseline.
over 2,100 steps might not sound that much, but it equates to a 27
percent increase in physical activity – which is really
astounding," said Bravata.
person who wasn't surprised by the finding is James Hill, PhD, an
obesity expert at University of Colorado. "It fits with everything
we've seen; we can get pretty amazing increased physical activity by
using pedometers," said Hill, who co-founded America on the Move, a
national initiative that encourages people to add 2,000 steps a day to
what they already are doing.
looking beyond increased steps, Bravata's team found that pedometer
users lost weight: their body mass index - a measure of body fat based
on height and weight - decreased by 0.4. (For a 5-foot-6 person who
initially weighed 195 pounds, that would be 2.5 pounds lost.)
also saw their systolic blood pressure (the upper number of the two
values) fall by 3.8 mm Hg. Bravata said she considered this decrease
quite significant, especially because the baseline blood pressure of
the pedometer users was not that high. She noted that a reduction of 2
mm Hg is associated with a 10 percent reduction in stroke mortality and
a 7 percent reduction in death from vascular causes.
researchers also evaluated specific components of the walking programs
and found that having a step goal was a key predictor of increased
physical activity. "People don't always achieve it, but just having a
goal seems to help them stay motivated and improve their physical
activity," she noted.
pointed out that this study does have limitations. Only 15 percent of
study participants were male, for example, and the mean study duration
was only 18 weeks. She said more randomized, controlled studies on
longer-term pedometer use are needed.
the meantime, Bravata hopes her findings will encourage physicians to
recommend pedometers to their sedentary patients. And Hill hopes this
demonstrates to people that health can be improved with just simple
changes. "Nothing is simpler than getting a pedometer," he said.
co-authors, who were all at Stanford at the time of the study, are
Crystal Smith-Spangler, MD; Vandana Sundaram, MPH; Allison L. Gienger;
Nancy Lin, ScD; Robyn Lewis, MA; Christopher D. Stave, MLS; Ingram
Olkin, PhD and John R. Sirard, PhD. This project was supported by a
grant from the National Institute on Aging through the Stanford Center
on the Demography and Economics of Health and Aging.
more information on Stanford University Medical Center, visit