By Dr. Mercola
Oftentimes, the simplest interventions are the best ones for improving your health, and such appears to be the case with the use of a pedometer – a small gadget you can buy for under $30.
Pedometers measure your activity throughout the day to give you an idea of how active you actually are. This might not seem overly exciting, but it’s actually a powerful motivational tool that can prompt you to try to take more steps than you did the day before.
Some of the more technologically advanced pedometers can also be synced up with your computer or smart phone so you can easily track your activity, and other factors like calories burned throughout the day, and set goals to get active during your “zero step” times.
New research shows, in fact, that the use of a pedometer can help avoid a significant health risk, especially if you work in an office or have a long commute …
Using a Pedometer May Motivate You to Sit Less
In a new study, researchers gave pedometers to middle-aged adults, who wore them daily for 12 weeks while also receiving twice-weekly emails containing nutritional advice and exercise tips.
This simple action led to a significant decrease in sitting time, and a significant increase in physical activity, among the participants, who lost an average of 2.5 pounds each.1
The fact that the pedometer seemed to motivate its wearer to move around more in lieu of sitting is a huge accomplishment, and one that could lead to drastic health improvements. As one of the study’s authors noted:2
"Even if somebody works out 30 minutes a day, the fact that they're sitting and not moving for long periods of time for the rest of the day is in and of itself detrimental to their health and well-being, physiologically.”
In fact, according to a study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise,3 the more time you spend sitting down, the greater your risk of dying from all causes.
What I Believe Is Better Than a Pedometer
Another recent analysis of 18 studies4 (which in total included nearly 800,000 people) found that those who sat for the longest periods of time were twice as likely to have diabetes or heart disease, compared to those who sat the least. Recent research also estimates that if you cut back on the amount of time spent sitting to less than three hours a day, it could add two years to your life expectancy.5
These sitting studies really concerned me and I was delighted to find a researcher who had studied the dangerous effects of microgravity on astronauts. Sitting down is very similar to what occurs to the human body in space.
In the video below, Dr. Joan Vernikos,6 former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division and author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, presents a scientific explanation for why sitting has such a dramatic impact on your health and what you can do about it.
As a result of the interview I did with Dr. Vernikos, I have started standing up every 10 minutes while working at my desk. There are many free online timers. I used to use Online-Stopwatch.com and set it to go off every 10 minutes that I am sitting down. However, I found the alarm distressing so I downloaded this free alarm program that allows me to play any audio file when the alarm goes off.
I actually stand and sit up very slowly five times or do four jump squats depending on my energy level. This is a powerful way to interact with gravity on a regular basis and prevent the damage that long periods of sitting does.
I don’t know for certain at this point, but these regular non-exercise activities like standing up 35 times a day may be more important than high-intensity exercises like Peak Fitness. Remember, you can’t cheat and stand up 35 times in one session. They have to be spread out throughout the day otherwise it will not work.
Simple Exercises to Combat the Health Impacts of Too Much Sitting
Another thing I do to compensate for the time I spend sitting each day is to regularly do Foundation Training exercises developed by a brilliant chiropractor, Eric Goodman. These exercises are used by many professional and elite athletes but more importantly can easily address the root cause of most low back pain, which is related to weakness and imbalance among your posterior chain of muscles. It is my belief that that these imbalances are primarily related to sitting.
Foundation Training is all about your core. Your core is anything that connects to your pelvis, whether above or below it, which includes your hamstrings, glutes, and adductor muscles. Foundation Training teaches all those muscles to work together through integrated chains of movement, which is how you're structurally designed to move, as opposed to compartmentalized movements like crunches.
"The Founder" is one of the key exercises, which helps reinforce proper movement while strengthening the entire back of your body by dispersing your weight through the posterior chains. As a result, your weight shifts back toward your heels and "untucks" your pelvis. By doing so, you lengthen your hip flexors, gaining length at the front of your body. The Founder is an excellent exercise that can help reverse the effects of frequent and prolonged sitting.
Are Tech-Savvy Pedometers Worth Checking Out?
Many people do find value in pedometers so if you’re thinking of trying a pedometer, you can find inexpensive versions for under $10 or try one of the newer high-end devices that essentially act as pedometers plus, allowing you to monitor more than just your steps taken as well as sync up with your smartphone. A recent article in the New York Times rated the least expensive Fitbit One, which clips onto a belt, and a simple, no frills pedometer as superior to the more expensive FuelBand (by Nike), Up (by Jawbone) and a wireless armband from BodyMedia FIT.7 So you can generally base your decision of which type of pedometer to buy on how much you want to spend, and how connected to technology you want to be. To give a few more specifics:
- Fitbit: A small device that clips on your clothes and tracks your steps. It can also monitor how much sleep you get at night. The Fitbit can easily synch up with your computer or smart phone so you can easily track your data and progress.
- Jawbone UP: A high-tech bracelet that tracks your activity, sleep, food intake and mood to help you track your overall health.
- Nike FuelBand: Another bracelet that tracks calories burned in a day and whether or not you’re meeting your fitness goals. It comes with a mobile app to help you monitor your fitness.
- Basis: This wristwatch-like device tracks your sleep patterns, blood flow, perspiration, workout intensity, steps taken, calories burned, resting heart rate and more, allowing you to create and track your health goals.
- Lark: Lark includes both nighttime and daytime wristbands with an app to track fitness statistics, food eaten, sleep, calories burned and more, helping you to make informed decisions about your health.
Another Simple Gadget to Help Get You Moving Efficiently
A heart rate monitor tracks your progress and gauges the intensity of the workout on your body. This is incredibly important when engaging in exercises like high-intensity Peak Fitness, where you need to raise your heart rate up to your anaerobic threshold for 20 to 30 seconds, followed by a 90-second recovery period, in order to get the full benefits.
You will want to get very close to, if not exceed, your maximum heart rate (calculated as 220 minus your age) by the last interval. Since high-intensity exercises are generally done for only a short time, reaching this intensity is key to its effectiveness. You can try and manually count your heart rate by palpating your pulse and using a watch, but this is not easy to do with heart rates above 125-175 beats per minute. When you are out of breath from exercising, it becomes even more difficult.
The bottom line... you will need a heart rate monitor device to measure your heart rate to help optimize your workout. It's unlikely you can accurately measure it manually (using your pulse and 'counting method') when it's above 150, and this is truly important as there's actually a major difference between a heart rate of 170 and 174 (or 160 and 164 if you are over 50).
Two great options I discovered, and strongly recommend, are the digital SmartHealth and SmartSport heart rate monitors. They can provide you the flexibility to monitor and measure all you need, and come in the form of a very versatile wristwatch… SmartHealth offers accurate heart rate monitoring while SmartSport gives you several additional functions, such as a calorie-burn calculator and the option to store data from your last workout.
These are the types of simple interventions that can lead to large gains in your health. By clipping a pedometer to your belt, you can challenge yourself to sit less and increase your movement on a daily basis. And by using a heart rate monitor when performing high-intensity Peak Fitness workouts, you can make sure that you’re reaching the therapeutic level of intensity needed to reach optimal health.