A $20 fitness gadget stood up to multiple research studies, helping people walk an additional mile each day — but only if they logged their steps.
Those who did lowered their blood pressure and lost a few pounds, an analysis found.
Pedometers, also called step counters, clip to a belt or waistband and count the steps the wearer takes during the day. They range in price from $5 to $60, with simple yet reliable models costing around $20.
The analysis found that increasing physical activity depended on setting a goal and keeping a diary of the number of steps walked each day, said co-author Dr. Dena Bravata of Stanford University. Her report appears in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association.
“Every night, you write down how many steps you walked that day,” she said. “By flipping back through your diary, you’re able to see patterns: ’On the two days a week I took the stairs, I increased my steps.”’
Bravata, a practicing internist, wanted to recommend pedometers to her patients. But she “really wanted to know if these little gizmos that now are increasingly popular worked.”
She and her colleagues analyzed 20 studies from the United States and Canada and half a dozen from Japan, Europe and Australia. The average age of participants was 49, and 85 percent were female because some studies targeted women. The total number of volunteers overall was more than 2,700.
On average, the volunteers lost a few pounds. And their blood pressure dropped enough to lower their risk for stroke and heart disease, Bravata said.
Keeping a step diary was key; those who didn’t do that showed no significant increase in walking. Pedometer users who didn’t have a step goal also failed to increase their physical activity.
A Japanese fitness movement sets a goal of 10,000 steps, but more modest goals also worked to increase activity, Bravata said.
It’s still unclear whether the effects are long-lasting, she said. The studies followed patients, on average, 18 weeks.
There were lasting effects for Marcy Ross, 54, an encyclopedia editor from Great Barrington, Mass. She has clocked more than 3 million steps since putting on a pedometer 2½ years ago and has lost “five to 10 extra pounds.”
“It’s the best thing I ever did,” Ross said. Recording her steps on the Web site of the non-profit group America on the Move inspires her to walk instead of drive when doing errands and to get up to talk to a co-worker rather than send an e-mail.
Dr. David Bassett Jr. of the University of Tennessee praised the analysis for pulling together what’s known about pedometers and fitness. Bassett has done pedometer research, but was not involved in the new analysis.
“This puts us on firmer ground in saying what we know about the use of pedometers in changing behavior,” Bassett said.
The analysis was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging.