Measuring Your Stride
Basic or Fancy?
All pedometers are not created equal. They range from basic and inexpensive to jam-packed with bells and whistles. A bare-bones unit might simply measure steps, while a fancy one might measure steps, calories, miles, and heart rate. Just know that basic units can be equally complicated to set up, if not more so, because they're not as intuitive as the sophisticated versions.
Whatever the model, pedometers all work in a similar fashion by counting the electronic pulses each time you take a step, and multiplying those by your preprogrammed stride or step length. Here's a time to pull out those instructions that came with your pedometer, because some refer to "stride" and "step" interchangeably, while others distinguish "stride" as the distance between one heel striking once and then again, which would technically be two steps. You just don't want to be short-changing — or cheating — your total count.
How to Measure Your Stride
The key to getting the best results from your new gadget is an accurate step (or stride) length. There are several ways to measure this, but one of the easiest is to make a mark behind your right heel, then walk 10 steps and mark the spot where your right heel ends. Measure that distance and divide by 10. The catch here is that you're starting from a dead stop, which isn't your normal pace. An alternative is to measure a specific distance on the sidewalk, like 20 feet. Start walking before your measured area, so you're up to your typical walking speed by the time you start counting steps. From your "start" line, measure how many steps it takes you to get to the "finish" line. Divide your 20 feet by the number of steps it took you to get there.
Where to Wear It
Okay, the hard part's over. Now, it's just a matter of hooking it on, something you should do first thing in the morning. When you put on your watch, put on your pedometer. Hey, those steps from the bathroom to the bedroom should count! Make sure you position your pedometer on your waistband, in line with your right knee, facing straight up and down, not tilted to the side.
"It's measuring the kick of your leg and your hip motion," explains Susan Parks, CEO of WalkStyles, Inc., maker of the DashTrak pedometer. "It's also an untapped accessory space," she adds. This might sound frivolous, but after perfecting your outfit for the day, you don't want this gadget ruining your look. DashTrak units even offer three snap-on covers in different colors.
One tip: If you're afraid your pedometer will fall off or land in the toilet, put a ribbon through the waist clip and pin it to your pants.
How to Get to 10,000 Steps
More and more doctors and fitness experts recommend walking 10,000 steps every day as a way to maintain a healthy weight and exercise your heart. Where did this magic number come from?
"The 10,000 steps number was discovered in Japan over 40 years ago," Parks says. The general Japanese lifestyle includes eating healthy and walking — a lot. Since generally, Japanese are healthier than Americans, American health experts began to adopt the Japanese model of healthy living. Making that concept work for us is another thing.
As it stands, Americans average about 3,000 to 4,000 steps a day. But Parks insists getting 10,000 in is a cinch. She says she has remained fit since picking up the habit about four years ago. The main thing is not to make it punishment, Parks says, but just a normal routine. "We really try to have people weave it into their lifestyle," she says.
You could try to get all your steps in one, long walk — it would be about 5 miles — but chances are, you don't have that kind of time, at least not every day. Parks has a good way to jump-start your steps. "I try to get up and get in a half-hour in the morning, walking around my neighborhood or on the treadmill or, if I'm away, just walking around my hotel room."
In fact, walking at a 15-minute-mile pace for a half-hour will earn you about 4,000 steps. Just over half to go! When Parks gets to the office, she first takes a quick walk around the parking lot, thinking about her day ahead and what she needs to do, so she not only works in more steps, but prepares herself mentally for a productive day.
Here are some other ideas to sneak in steps:
- Take stairs whenever possible.
- Instead of carrying all the laundry upstairs at once (or the dishes from the table to the kitchen), take several trips.
- While you wait for a flight at the airport, skip the trashy tabloid, and walk up and down the corridors.
- When grocery shopping, walk through every aisle.
- Instead of emailing your coworker down the hall, walk over to her office.
- While gabbing on the phone, walk around your house.
- Grab your significant other and get out there together.
- Choose a parking spot that's far from the store entrance — or just walk to the store!
- Treat the dog to a longer walk.
- Make a walking date with a friend, instead of calling her.
If jumping from your sedentary 4,000 steps to 10,000 in one day has you heading back to the couch, feel free to build up to it. Aim for 20 percent more each week until you reach 10,000. Soon enough, you'll be racking up those steps without even thinking.
Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, December 2005.