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Count the steps to motivate walking.

By Pat Ryan

Walking requires little equipment and provides lots of health benefits. You can facilitate walking by helping the older adults you work with use two tools: a step counter (pedometer) and a walking log. These tools are inexpensive and, with your guidance, a great way to start walking or to increase steps. In this article, you'll learn how to use step counters and logs to increase walking.

Step counters and pedometers

The simplest pedometer is a step counter. It clips to the waistband and counts the number of steps walked for less than $10 U.S. A step counter works like a pendulum, using the movement of the hips to count the steps. That's why it is important to clip the device at the front crease of the pants, where the belt loop is, and straight (horizontally) to make it more accurate.

Step counters and pedometers are more accurate when walking is done at an even pace and less accurate when walking is slower. (But, if the counter is off a few steps, how much does that really matter? Isn't the goal simply to start or increase walking?)

More advanced pedometers ($10 to $30) calculate distance in miles or meters and have a clock. These pedometers require programming in stride length. For a good overview of how to measure stride length, visit www.walking.about.com. Modern pedometers get even more sophisticated ($30 and more) and add a host of functions up to highly accurate devices using Global Satellite Positioning technology.

Your participants don't need a lot of fancy technology. A step counter will get them started.

Why use a step counter?

Just having a step counter hooked onto the waistband is a reminder to walk. Step counters are real eye openers when they show how few (or how many) steps are taken in an average day. They also help walkers set goals and gradually increase the steps they take. When the steps are recorded on the log, the walker can look back and see improvements, which motivates more walking.

Get started using the step counter and log

Here are the basics for using the step counter and log:

Wear the step counter throughout the day for a week. Snap it on in the morning and take it off at night before going to bed. Record the steps taken at the end of the day on the Daily Activity Log.
Look for an average number of steps.

The next week, try to increase the average number of steps by walking more (parking at the end of the parking lot or walking up stairs) and adding a planned walk. Perhaps that is walking around the block one time, or to a destination, like a friend's house or a park. Maybe it's walking as far as possible around a track at a gym or high school. A short distance is fine. Record the number of steps on the log.

Increase the number of steps gradually. Walk around the block twice, or complete a circle of the track. Use the step counter to see how many more steps are walked.

Use the number of steps recorded on the log to set goals. For example, a goal for many people is to increase walking by 500 steps a day. If a participant walks an average of 1,000 steps a day for one week, the next week the goal is 1,500 steps a day. Use the step counter to count, and the log to record the number of steps.

Program ideas

Start a walking club for your community. Organizations sell quantities of very inexpensive step counters that will start the club walking.

Launch the 10-week progressive walking program described in Functional U (see Resources)

Present a one-hour walking clinic. Talk about posture and how to use the step counter and log.

Everyone can practice walking.

Invite a podiatrist or reliable shoe store expert to talk about choosing a walking shoe. Could this person bring measuring devices to fit shoes during the talk?

Measure stride length as part of a fun activity or an exercise class people would attend anyway. Place tape on the floor to measure a distance, for example 10 feet, and have people walk across it a couple times. Count the steps for them, divide by 10 and they have their stride lengths.

Host an orienteering (using compasses) or fitness caching (use GPS devices) event, where participants follow clues to find the end of the trail. These activities also exercise mental skills.

Advance using the step counter and log

Now that participants have a foundation of walking fitness, they are ready to increase their steps. Use the incremental goal of about 500 steps a day (depending on each individual's capabilities) to keep increasing the number of steps. People can stay motivated and progressing by:

following a planned walking program

increasing the pace (speed) to walk more steps in the same amount of time

lengthening the amount of time walked

choosing more hills (within their capabilities)

joining a walking club through the parks and recreation department, a health club or organizations like Sierra Club or volksmarch

selecting a walking vacation

walking at different locations, and different times of the day

The number of steps and the time it takes are all recorded on the walking log. In fact, as participants become more interested in walking, they can also record the things they see, the people they meet and other details. At this point, they will probably want to upgrade to a more sophisticated pedometer!

How many steps?

The optimum number of steps depends on each person's capabilities. The best motivator is personal improvement. Each individual starts at a personal baseline and gradually increases the number of steps. People are challenging themselves, not competing against a norm.

One program that has gained a lot of momentum is "10,000 steps a day." It is a good goal for many people--about five miles. Keep in mind there is no scientific basis for 10,000 steps, according to walking researcher Catrine Tudor-Locke, Ph.D., at Arizona State University.

For a more frail, elderly or chronically ill adult, this is far too many steps. Tudor-Locke reports that healthy older adults walk about 6,000 to 8,500 steps/day while people with disabilities and chronic diseases walk about 3,500 to 5,000 steps/day. On the one hand you don't want to discourage people who will never be able to achieve a high number of steps from even trying. On the other hand, a healthy and active older adult can walk more than 10,000 steps in a day.

A recommendation you'll find is 6,000 steps for general health and 10,000 steps or more for weight loss. From a different perspective, James O. Hill, Ph.D., at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, recommends taking 2,000 more steps (about 1 mile) above the number walked now and eating 100 fewer calories (about a pat of butter) for weight loss.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends older adults experience 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiorespiratory exercise at least five days a week, and more minutes for fitness and weight management.

As your participants' logs enable them to relate the number of steps to the amount of time it takes them to walk, they will be able to work on time goals to meet the Surgeon General's recommendation, along with the step goals.

Pat Ryan is vice president of education for ICAA and wears a pedometer.


Bumgardner W. Walking.guide, about.com. Retrieved April 4, 2005, from General recommendations. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Retrieved April 11, 2005
Hill, J. O. America on the Move. Retrieved April 11, 2005

Tudor-Locke, C. (2002) Taking steps toward increased physical activity: using pedometers to measure and motivate. President's Council on Physical Fitness & Sports. Research Digest, 3(17). Retrieved January 8, 2005

Tudor-Locke C, Bassett DR Jr. (2004) How many steps/day are enough? Preliminary pedometer indices for public health. Sports Medicine, 34(1):1-8. Retrieved April 4, 2005

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from research. The ICAA encourages you to make your own health and business decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified professional qualified professional.

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