From basic step-counters to high-tech fitness trackers, there are so many choices when it comes to measuring our physical activity that it all looks like a silly fad. However, you don't need anything expensive, just something that measures steps or distance; my personal favourite is the free Charity Miles app, which I use to support charity: water. Why? New research suggests that counting how far and fast we go during walking or running does work, when it comes to maintaining healthy exercise habits.
Pedometers: Boosting Your Motivation (Almost) for Free
In a recently published UK study, 1,023 physically inactive volunteers aged 45-75 were recruited from GP offices. For twelve weeks, they participated in the walking study, using exercise diaries and behaviour-changing techniques, with some of them receiving pedometers. After three years, those with pedometers still walked 627 more steps per day, on average, and participated in 24-48 more minutes of physical activity per week than the control group. Elsewhere, 298 inactive volunteers aged 60-75 were recruited, and after four years the intervention group were participating in an average of 33 more minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week, and walking an average of 400 extra steps per day. When this is translated to health outcomes, an extra 28 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each week is linked to a 4% reduction in coronary heart disease, and an extra 627 steps each day is linked to a 4% reduction in all-cause mortality for their age group.
Other Research on Exercise and Mortality
Studies have now begun to investigate the relationship between exercise and mortality on even older adults, those in their 80s, when many people would assume lifestyle makes no difference. In one using Evergreen project data, mortality rates among people who remained active were compared to those who became inactive, remained inactive or later decided to become active. This was tracked over 18 years, in order to get high-quality results. Compared to those who stayed active, people who became less active had double the risk of dying, with participants who stayed inactive being 2.16 times more likely to die. This was controlled for by age, gender and chronic illnesses. People who became more active had a 50% greater risk of dying, but it wasn't statistically significant. This shows that it is not too late to begin exercise or see its benefits. What researchers left out was acknowledgement of the power we have over aging, seeing it as "normal" and genetically determined. However, some herbal medicines and nutrients such as coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) can help to slow and reverse aging. Research has shown that CoQ10, for example, regulates multiple genes involved in aging, especially those that control inflammation. To see whether CoQ10, which also helps boost energy, is right for you, it is best to see a qualified naturopath such as myself. In conclusion, getting and staying active is one of the best ways to remain healthy and vibrant, and if measuring your steps or distance helps, go for it! It's not obsessive or pedantic to measure your progress (or support charity: water, and help save lives by providing clean water and sanitation).