Health Gadgets and Goodies at Consumer Electronics Show

Can tech help health? Yes! There’s a groundswell of gadgets and goodies coming to the market, showing how quickly this segment is developing. I particularly love the companies focused on helping kids develop healthy habits, though I think I prefer my own childhood running after balls and jumping rope and whatnot, over playing dance dance revolution in the classroom. Perhaps it’s a matter of generational taste…

Go here for the low down:

How important are good pedometers to your walking program?

I recently received this email:

My pedometer is HIGHLY inaccurate. Last night I walked for an hour covering about 3 miles and the pedometer recorded about 300 steps. I’ve tried positioning it different ways and it’s no good. I walked down the hall from my cube to the break room and counted 104 steps, one-way. With the pedometer on my belt it recorded less than 20 steps. With it in my pocket on the walk back it recorded 120.  This calls into question all the calculations for users of these pedometers in our Walking Challenge.

We’ve seen time and again that when walkers don’t have faith in the equipment that is, in part, meant to motivate them, the program won’t work as well. I’m well aware that running a walking program is a balance of costs and resources. But when making a pedometer-purchasing decision, it’s important to remember that not all pedometers are created equal.

The good news is, pedometers are one of the cheapest exercise tools you can buy. The high end of pedometers is around $30. The pedometer I have in my pocket (an Omron HJ-112) I’ve owned for four years and I bought it for around $20. Have a look at what our individual walking community says about their pedometers.

Omron HJ-112

Omron HJ-112

When you’re talking about a thousand pedometers, the difference between five dollars and twenty dollars is huge. With that in mind, here are a couple of ideas we’ve seen in order to help with the purchase of higher-quality pedometers.

  • Employee kick-in: Some of our programs have asked their employees to kick in $10 for their program which can offset the initial cost of a higher-quality pedometer significantly. And when they realize they’ll be getting a $15 – $20 pedometer for $10, the value proposition is easy for them as well.
  • Loaner Pedometers: One of our programs has purchased a bulk of loaner pedometers. They run shorter term walking competitions of about eight weeks each a couple of times a year, and for each competition they loan out the pedometers and collect them at the end of the competition. This might not work in all settings — however, your walkers will respect the equipment more, your pedometers will last longer and you won’t need to re-purchase them for each walking program you run (incidentally: We’ve seen that running series of shorter-term programs works incredibly well, which is why we’ve begun offering fully managed walking programs.)

In any case, spending the money to purchase a higher-quality pedometer will pay off in the end. You’ll have walkers more committed to the program, and will thus yield much better results. We’re trying to enable long-term lifestyle changes here at Walker Tracker, and you need a pedometer you can rely on for the long haul.

iPod Nano Pedometer Survey

Here’s the survey we’re going to post in our newsletter that goes out tomorrow.

Who is using an iPod Nano pedometer? How accurate is it? Are you using Nike+? Should we find a way to automagically pull in the data?

iPod Nano Pedometer Survey >

Feel free to get a jump on the responses!
The responses are open – so you’ll be able to see the results (of multiple-choice questions, not the text fields)

What kind of pedometer should I get?

I’ve been asked this question a ton of times — here’s what I usually tell people:

Depending upon your budget, I’ve definitely found that nicer pedometers encourage people to stick with walking. A pedometer is a cheap investment already — and so I would encourage everyone to bypass the $1 – $5 pedometers and go for something that will:

1) Last you

2) Not count a bunch of steps for non-walking activities

3) Be very wearable (most of the people on Walker Tracker wear their pedometer all day, every day)

A pedometer like this is going to cost you in the neighborhood of $10 – $40. Walking really is one of the cheapest physical activities.

My favorite pedometers are the ‘pocket pedometers’ — you don’t need to clip them on, you just put them in your pocket and they’ll count fine from there. The cheapest of these is the Omron HJ-112, which is about $20 at Amazon. Its big brother is the Omron HJ-720ITC. If  you are ordering in bulk, you might try for a discount.

For cheaper options – the Omron HJ-150 and HJ-151 are both decent, sturdy pedometers. It’s also worth checking out  what pedometers our community likes here —  it looks like other highly-rated pedometers according to our community are the Sportline 345, Sportline 350, Yamax DigiWalker CW-701, New Lifestyles NL-2000.

In order of features, I like:

  • wearable in a pocket. If you don’t wear it, it’s not going to do you any good.
  • memory (usually 7 days – I like to see how I’ve done over a week, and it’s useful for entering on Walker Tracker)
  • resets at midnight
  • sturdiness
  • can’t ‘fake’ steps (uses an accelerometer over a pendulum. Or rather, it’s much harder to fake steps)
  • a continuous activity measure (on Omron pedometers this is called ‘aerobic steps’ (in the newer ones, for some reason they renamed this to ‘moderate steps’ – it measures when it feels you’ve been walking long enough to benefit your heart)

There are lots of other metrics that pedometers can calculate — miles walked, calories burned, etc, but most of these are just mathematical calculations based on the number of steps you’ve walked. They’re useful features, but not absolutely necessary.

Best of luck!

Taking the long way home, or The pedometer incentive

Walking to the beach

“The garage next to mine is empty,” volunteered my apartment manager the other day. “If you want to switch to it, it’s a lot closer to your back door. It’d be easier with the kids.”

It’s true. It is closer. About 25 (I just ran out and checked) steps closer. On first thought, it sounds nice. It would make my life a little easier. But at what cost? On reflection, I keep coming back to a post I read in one of the Walker Tracker forums, which said, in essence, “I don’t look for shortcuts anymore. Now I look for long cuts.”

That is one of the benefits of walking with a pedometer. We know, we all know, that walking is good for us, that each increment of activity we can add to our daily routine is helpful. But it can be hard to remember, sometimes, that taking 25 extra steps from the garage, or 120 extra steps to the next bus stop, is truly valuable. In fact, without a walking program, or even the idea of one, it’s probable that you don’t think of those distances in terms of steps but as obstacles in between Point A and Point B.

Now, however, pedometer in tow — even on the days I don’t check it, I’m aware of it adding to my step counter — I welcome these former obstacles. More steps! I think, as I plug away haphazardly toward my goal of 10,000 steps every day. I, too, look for long cuts. I won’t be moving our bikes and boxes to the closer garage. Last night I walked to the video store, even though the car would have had me watching that much-anticipated episode of The Wire a lot faster.

Every step does add up, and a pedometer makes it more obvious.

What are some long cuts you’ve started taking as you’ve added the pedometer to your life?

100 steps a minute is the new 10,000 steps a day

100 steps a minute? Go!

St. Patrick’s Day saw the release of a fascinating pedometer-based study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

A small group of researchers was interested in translating the public health recommendation that all Americans should engage in 2.5 hours of moderate activity each week into an easy-to-follow “pedometer-based guideline.”

After clipping pedometers to 97 adults and tracking their metabolic rates at different speeds of walking, the researchers came to the conclusion that walking 100 steps a minute, or 3,000 steps in half an hour, is an ideal pace to meet the guidelines. There were slight differences in exactly what the ideal rate was for men compared to women, and for overweight or obese persons compared to normal weight persons. However, the 100 steps a minute rate is accessible and easy to remember for all, and, the study concludes, close enough for all groups of people to be effective in reaching the goal.

The study was performed on treadmills, which I had long heard were not as beneficial as just plain walking outdoors, but the paper takes pains to lay my qualms to rest, saying, “evidence does suggest that walking on a treadmill and walking overground are kinetically and kinematically equivalent in healthy subjects.”

I took a look at the chart breaking all the proposed ideal step rates down into categories, and was a little surprised to see that though most of the categories did fall into the “approximately 100 steps a minute” range, under one of the three analyses available, adults of “normal weight” would more likely benefit from walking at a pace of 127 steps per minute.

I know that I’m going to dig up a watch with a second hand and go for a walk today after I finish planting tulips. I’d like to see how fast it feels to walk 100+ steps a minute!

The full paper is available on the American Journal of Preventive Medicine’s website. Its complete title is: Translating Physical Activity Recommendations into a Pedometer-Based Step Goal: 3000 Steps in 30 Minutes