THE EDGE; Watch your step; Fun little device marks strides to fitness

THE EDGE; Watch your step; Fun little device marks strides to fitness

CARA NISSMAN

To get her daily exercise, Michelle Tellier simply steps into action.

The Hyde Park 42-year-old uses a small device called a pedometer to keep track of the number of steps she takes in a day and pushes herself to walk an additional 200 to 300 steps beyond her regular 12,000-step routine.

“Walking is a great form of exercise, and the pedometer gives you great incentive,” Tellier said. “When I started to train for the Avon Three-Day Walk for Breast Cancer (after her mother died of the disease), the pedometer made me realize how much walking that really was – about 32,000 steps.”

People like Tellier are increasingly using pedometers to stride toward a healthier lifestyle because of the device’s motivational power.

“There’s definitely been a surge in sales this year,” said Craig Trinkley, owner of Pedometersusa.com. The beeper-size devices range in cost from $10 to $200 and in sophistication from a spare step counter to a high-tech gadget that measures heart rate, mileage, speed and steps. “They’re an inexpensive way to get people moving. Doctors are acknowledging that we’re living in an overweight society and that people aren’t moving enough.”

Indeed, nearly 65 percent of adults nationwide are overweight, according to the 1999-2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

While Tellier’s 12,000 steps (about four miles) might be daunting to some die-hard couch potatoes, Dr. George W. Reed, associate professor of medicine at UMass Medical School, said most people can stem weight gain with fewer steps.

“There’s an energy gap where people are consuming more than they can burn off in a day,” said Reed, co-author of the recently published paper “Obesity and the Environment: Where Do We Go From Here?” “Walking just 2,000 to 2,500 more steps during the day can help balance out those extra calories.”

Some folks view using pedometers as a game, daring themselves to do more exercise and burn more calories than they would following their regular routines.

“It’s fun, you can make a game out of it so you make sure you do it,” said Moe Silberzweig of Acton, who wears one daily.

Personal trainer Shelly Berman-Rubera said a client who resisted exercise pushed himself to walk after learning that he only took 750 steps on a typical work day – the U.S. surgeon general recommends folks walk 10,000 steps (about 3 1/2 miles).

“He was shocked beyond belief,” said Berman-Rubera, owner of Professional Fitness by Shelly in Newton, who often uses a pedometer. “It definitely mobilized him.”

Cathy Hill, who walks about 15,000 steps a day, also said the tool keeps her honest.

“If you only walk 7 or 8,000 steps, it forces you to get out and walk those extra steps,” said Hill, a physical-education teacher at George W. Brown Elementary School in Newburyport. “You start trying to walk everywhere, taking the stairs, parking farther away.”

Schools, including Hill’s, are catching on to the power of pedometers to motivate sedentary students, rewarding kids for the number of steps they take each day, with impressive results. Rupert A. Nock Middle School in Newburyport saw its percentage of obese kids drop from 22 to 16 over four years, said Kathy Straubel, school nurse and health-education facilitator.

“A lot of towns like Salisbury and (school sytems like) Pentucket are realizing that their children weigh too much and want to help them avoid chronic diseases like diabetes and asthma,” said Christine Geoghegan, nurse leader for the Newburyport school system. “Quite a few teachers take their students out for quick walks throughout the day instead of having them watch a movie.”

Other people are just curious about their endurance.

“A lot of it is just intrigue about how far I can walk,” said Phil Hait of Holliston. “But my doctor’s thrilled that I’ve lost 10 pounds.”

Yet if they could, many users would tweak their pedometers. Walkers must enter their stride length and weight and clip the device to their waistband or belt so it can sense when they’ve taken a step. But some devices can be too sensitive to movement.

“It’s not always that accurate,” said Tellier. “And if you’re wearing a dress, you can’t fasten it.”

Susan Finagan, a physical-therapy assistant at the Shaughnessy- Kaplan Rehabilitation Hospital in Salem, said beginners shouldn’t waste time worrying about the number of steps they’re taking. The exercise is most important.

“For a person in a beginning stage, you’re better off just going by the amount of time and speed you walk,” she said. “If you’ve never done much exercise before, even just getting up on your feet can be exhausting. You can start with 10 or 15 minutes and gradually build your endurance.”

Caption: TIME TO GET MOVING: Shelly Berman-Rubera, a personal trainer who owns Professional Fitness by Shelly in Newton, praises the motivational power of pedometers. Staff photos by Michael Fein

Caption: ONE STEP AT A TIME: Trainer Shelly Berman-Rubera says pedometers motivate by counting how many – or how few – steps people take in a day. Staff photo by Michael Fein

Copyright 2003

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