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Couch potatoes find 10,000 steps easier than a 30-minute walk

April 13, 2005 -- Pedometers may help couch potatoes get sorely needed exercise.

Pedometers keep track of how far a person walks or runs. They also keep track of the number of steps a person takes. That -- plus advice to take 10,000 steps a day -- seems to be the best motivation for people who don't like to exercise.

The finding comes from a study of 58 women by University of Tennessee researcher Dixie L. Thompson, PhD, and colleagues. The women didn't get much exercise. In a typical day, they tended to take only 5,760 steps.

That's not much exercise. And it may explain why all of these middle-aged women (average age, 45) were overweight or obese (although none was severely obese).

At the very least, a person ought to get 30 minutes of exercise every day. That's about 10,000 steps.

So Thompson and colleagues told half of the women to "take a brisk 30-minute walk on most, preferably all, days of the week." They gave the women a pedometer -- sealed so the women could not read it -- to record how many steps they actually took.

The researchers told the other half of the women to walk 10,000 steps every day. They, too, got a sealed pedometer. But they also got another pedometer that showed them how many steps they were taking.

Women told to take a 30-minute walk averaged about 10,000 steps -- but only on days they actually took a walk. On other days, they tended to sit around as usual.

The women given a pedometer and told to walk 10,000 steps every day averaged about 12,000 steps on days they actually went for a walk. But even on days they didn't manage to go walking, they still upped their step total to about 8,000 steps.

"Pedometers are quite popular now, and with good reason," Thompson says, in a news release. "Our study shows they can provide an incentive for people to increase their activity levels. Study participants who monitored their daily steps with pedometers tended to walk more every day, even when they were below their goal of 10,000 steps per day."

The findings appear in the April issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

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