June 1, 2012

Pedometers Motivate The Elderly To Exercise

Walking the dog. Skipping. These are all exercises that incorporate steps, something that is especially necessary for older adults. A new study by researchers at the University of Western Sydney, published in the journal Annals of Family Medicine, found that pedometers could possibly encourage the elderly to mix in more physical activity in their daily schedules.

The findings showed that giving older adults a pedometer motivated them to seek exercise and was more successful than simply giving them advice to follow. They participated in more “leisurely” walking. The participants also tried to complete more daily tasks with walking, such as walking to the store for groceries instead of driving there.

"Leisure walking is seen as a manageable form of physical activity for older adults, and hence should be more actively encouraged," noted lead author Gregory S. Kolt, a professor at the University of Western Sydney in Australia, in an article by Reuters Health.

Pedometers are devices that count the number of steps a person takes. It can be worn at the waist and can be used throughout the day or during a particular activity. Experts advise people to take 10,000 steps a day, which is equal to a 20-minute walk made up of 2,000 steps.

However, there aren´t many people who reach the recommended goal of 10,000 steps a day. Past studies have showed that Americans takes about 5,000 steps a day and those in other countries are more successful at reaching the 10,000 steps goal. Furthermore, getting older adults to increase the number of steps they take a day is even more difficult task to accomplish. In the study, Kolt and other researchers examined how giving pedometers to older adults could inspire them to increase their walking.

In the project, researchers randomly assigned the 300 participants, who were 65 or older, to two different programs. In one program, the participants were given pedometers to use and asked to walk more. In another program, the participants were asked to be more active and were given follow-up calls that tracked their progress with exercise counselors; this particular program was inspired by a program called Green Prescription in New Zealand. After a year, those who were in the pedometer group increased their physical activity to 50 more minutes a day while those in the Green Prescription program only increased their physical activity to 28 minutes more a day. The increase in exercise also improved blood pressure levels in both groups; older adults decreased their systolic pressure, the top number in blood pressure readings, by 10 points.

“Pedometers, in this study, likely improved the efficacy of the activity prescription by providing regular objective monitoring and feedback to assist motivation. The function is achieved through participants´ ability to see the number of steps attained through particular activities and throughout the day. It could be that the pedometers encouraged more achievable and sustainable increases in habitual physical activities that are not necessarily supported by a time-based prescription,” wrote the authors in the report.

Based on the research, pedometers could be an inexpensive, easy way for older adults to increase their physical activity and meet or exceed their health goals.

"Leisure walking is an important component of overall physical activity -- especially in older adults," Kolt explained to Reuters Health in an email.