Fitness in Ten Thousand Easy Steps 

Like all cool things, pedometers were invented by Leonardo da Vinci, though Thomas Jefferson often gets the credit.

Fitness in Ten Thousand Easy Steps

My husband bought me a pedometer for my birthday and it came with a booklet saying I should take 10,000 steps every day. So far, I'm only getting a little more than half that. Is 10,000 really the right amount or should I just join a gym?

-Leslie

I don't usually correct the question, but perhaps a more critical thing to ask regards your husband's idea of an appropriate birthday gift. I suppose a vacuum cleaner or liposuction might have been more insulting, but at least they cost more than 20 bucks. For his Christmas present, might I suggest a certificate for a back waxing?

Like all cool things, pedometers were invented by Leonardo da Vinci, though Thomas Jefferson often gets the credit. These small, pager-shaped devices are worn most often on the waistband and either electronically or mechanically count each step taken. The goal of 10,000 steps a day is a more recent creation with origins in Japan. About 40 years ago, the term manpo kei, meaning "10,000 step meter" was applied to these devices as an easy way to remember an arbitrary objective. Even though no data was used to come up with that number, the goal has stuck and become part of fitness standards everywhere.

Our own government standards, the USDA healthy living guidelines, recently replaced the two-dimensional food pyramid with a 3-D version (I'm suggesting a pentagon shape for 2007, with one fifth being made up of ridiculously overpriced, super-secret foods). Part of this guide directs being physically active for a minimum of 30 minutes most days of the week. The 10,000 step program fits these guidelines well for two reasons: Most average people take about 5,000 steps during regular daily activity, and 5,000 additional steps compares to 30 minutes of brisk walking. If achieved, these 10,000 steps equal about 5 miles and burn more than 300 calories.

Now part of the McDonald's Adult Happy Meal, these devices have become required fitness fashion accessories. But, any stylish item given away at a drive-thru clearly spells trouble for the trend (a possible explanation for MC Hammer pants). Thankfully, higher quality pedometers are inexpensive and many models allow input of stride length and body weight, allowing display of calories burned and distance walked. Americans do love their exercise to require electronic gadgets, and pedometers allow exciting, new shopping opportunities.

Because many pedometers depend on proper rocking motion, careful positioning on your beltline is important. The device should be centered over your dominant leg about even with the crease in your pant line and it should be fastened securely (since you are less likely to wear something you dropped in the toilet). Although reaching 10,000 steps may be difficult at first, with regular use your fitness level will quickly improve. A good goal is to increase your daily average by 500 steps for a week, then go up another 500 each week following, until you reach your target.

Wearing a pedometer every day can actually be a motivating, effective and painless way to increase your physical activity. The gadget provides instant feedback and simply wearing it reminds you to park a little further away, take the stairs or go for a long walk. Also, keeping a daily log is known to be an effective way to modify behavior in the long term. Though a pedometer isn't the best birthday present (even grocery store flowers might have been more thoughtful), increasing your exercise will at least allow you to indulge in that special dessert. So pick a restaurant, eat hearty and excuse yourself when the bill comes. Get in the car and drive away. Your husband can walk home; it'll be good for him.

Dr. Ed Rabin is a chiropractor practicing at Life Chiropractic Center in Boise. (theantidote@edrabin.com; www.edrabin.com).

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