Extension News

Lighten Up Iowa: Count your 10,000 steps


AMES, Iowa -- Pedometers are the newest status symbol to rival the cellular phone attached to your hip. Even Ronald McDonald, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, Surgeon General Richard Carmona and the President of the United States have been known to wear them.

"Pedometers can help individuals monitor changes in day-to-day activity, such as parking farther from the mall entrance," said Ruth Litchfield, Iowa State University Extension nutritionist. "Many individuals prefer counting something real, like steps, and enjoy the challenge of trying to do more each week."

Recent, large epidemiological research studies suggest that taking at least 10,000 steps a day is related to decreased risk of certain chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. That works out to 4 to 5 miles per day since the average number of steps per mile is 2000 to 2500, depending on the individual.

"At a pace of 10- to 15-minute miles, this equals about 60 minutes of activity per day and meets the new Dietary Guideline for daily activity to prevent unwanted weight gain," Litchfield said.

However, as with all tools, the pedometer must be of quality and used correctly to provide accurate information. Studies recently published in "Medicine and Science in Sports and Medicine" and "Preventive Medicine" report that pedometers are not reliable at slower walking speeds - under 2 miles per hour. "Consumer Reports" tested a dozen pedometers and reports that only three were accurate within 5 percent.

What to do? Litchfield offers these suggestions:

  • Do your homework before buying a pedometer. Check out "Consumer Reports" and www.pedometers.com for a comparison of pedometers available on the market.
  • Follow the manufacturer's directions for proper placement and use of the pedometer. Improper placement or interference by certain types of waistbands on clothing are a common problem for pedometer inaccuracy.
  • Check a pedometer for accuracy by counting yourself for 100 steps and comparing with the pedometer's result.
  •  Walk a 15- to 20-minute mile pace to increase the accuracy of your pedometer and improve your heart health at the same time.
  • Take an extra 2000 steps each day at your faster pace and burn an extra 100 calories a day or keep off about 10 pounds per year.

Contacts :
Ruth Litchfield, Ph.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition, (515) 294-9484, litch@iastate.edu

Diane Nelson, Continuing Education and Communication Services, (515) 294-3178, dinelson@iastate.edu
Kim Nanke, Coordinator of Lighten Up Iowa, (888) 777-8881 extension 5, kim@iowagames.org
Tim Lane, Iowa Department of Public Health, (515) 281-7833, tlane@idph.state.ia.us