Walk Away the Pounds Without Breaking a Sweat
Move closer to fitness just by stepping up your daily routine
We know we need to get moving.
After all, some 61% of adults in this country are overweight, according to
the Surgeon General, and some 300,000 deaths a year are linked to obesity. The
National Academy of Sciences has recommended that we get an hour of physical
activity every day to lose weight (30 minutes for maintenance). The Centers for
Disease Control and other organizations say we need to exercise for at least 30
minutes, several days a week.
But we just can't seem to get ourselves in gear.
"Where we are as America right now is on the couch," said Shellie
Pfohl, executive director of Be Active North Carolina, a program that promotes
exercise in that state.
Something has to change, health officials and educators say. Some think the
key is to make exercise so easy that we barely notice we're doing it -- as easy
as adding extra steps to our daily routines.
"The average person is gaining one to two pounds a year," says James
O. Hill, PhD, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of
Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver. Hill believes the reason most
Americans aren't getting any healthier is because they're trying to change
their habits so dramatically that it sets them up for failure.
"We've been asking people to make big changes," like cleaning out
the cupboards and replacing them with healthy foods or joining a health club,
he tells WebMD. "People can't do that. Big changes don't fit their
Led by health educators like Hill and Pfohl, step-counting programs are
sprouting up around the country. The way these programs work is simple: Buy a
pedometer (available for $25 to $35) to track the number of steps you take in a
day; wear the pager-sized device from morning to bedtime for three days,
logging your steps at the end of each day; then figure out how many steps
you're averaging per day, and work to increase that amount.
The pedometer makes people aware of exactly how much activity they're
getting, says Pfohl. Her agency has an online walking program called Active
Steps, in which participants can log their daily steps, receive weekly tips,
and get feedback from other members.
"Allowing a person to see how active or inactive they are makes them
want to make changes," she tells WebMD.
Step-counting programs are catching on because research has found that
people can get health benefits from physical activity even if it isn't done all
at once, or at any particular pace, says Susan Johnston, vice president and
director of education and certification at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics
Research in Dallas.
Some of these programs encourage participants to aim for a specific number
of steps per day. For example, Shape Up America, an organization founded by
former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, has the 10,000 Step Program. Its
premise is that walking about 10,000 steps (approximately 5 miles) a day is the
optimum figure for managing your weight.
That figure may sound daunting, Johnson says, but consider this: "Most
people get 3,000 to 5,000 steps a day just being sedentary. You get half of it
just living." As for the rest, you can increase your distance gradually, in
small increments, as your health improves.
Other groups forego specific numbers of steps in favor of having people make
more modest increases in their activity levels. Hill and his colleagues created
Colorado on the Move, a community-based pedometer program designed to get
people to add steps to their day without making big lifestyle changes.