Health Notes: Pedometer use pumps up activity, exercise trumps vitamins for wellness, functional training aids mobility

This is another in an occasional series of SNEWS® Health Notes reports that will take a look at one or more recent pieces of research studies or reports about health, fitness, physical activity and wellness. This report focuses on the benefits of pedometer use, exercise over supplements and functional exercise for older adults.
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This is another in an occasional series of SNEWS® Health Notes reports that will take a look at one or more recent pieces of research studies or reports about health, fitness, physical activity and wellness. We'll focus on news you can use and present results in plain English, without all the techno-garble that can make many research studies seem overwhelming to read, let alone understand and explain to somebody else. Let us know what you think, what you would like to see, and how you'd like to see it!

>> Using a pedometer to count steps increases physical activity, drops blood pressure and weight.



It may seem like a bit of a marketing gimmick -- tuck a step counter into a pocket or clip it to a belt to see how much you move during a day -- but that little gadget may indeed motivate users to walk more. And more pedometer-motivated walking, a recent review of past studies found, did decrease blood pressure and weight.

The review, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Nov. 21, backed up its findings with the not-so-new news that most adults don’t get enough physical activity and many get none. Authors noted that if only 10 percent of adults in the United States began a regular walking program, an estimated $5.6 billion in costs of heart disease could be saved.

Small, inexpensive pedometers -- even the highest-end ones with computer chips don’t cost more than about $50 and decent less expensive ones can be had for $20 -- can be a motivating tool for many, it seems. They become more effective if combined with a daily step goal and can increase walking during the day by about a mile.

That may not seem like much but it’s enough to reap good health rewards, reviews at Stanford University found. Authors took a look at 26 studies with a total of 2,767 participants with an average age of 49; 85 percent were women. Most of the studies lasted 18 weeks. Participants increased their walking each day by nearly 2,500 steps more than controls for an activity gain of 26.9 percent. About 2,000 steps average a mile. Having a set goal was the best predicator for success; three studies that did not set goals had no significant improvement in activity with pedometers.

Even the one mile or so increase meant participants lowered their body mass index and weight, as well as their blood pressure.

So what? It may not seem like much to suggest to people to use it for extra motivation, but the tiny pedometer can reap rewards -- and create happy customers. It may be time for more retailers to consider selling them or to consider promotions that give them as a gift with purchase. What the industry is selling, of course, is wellness that extends beyond the 20 or 30 minute someone may spend on a piece of cardio equipment and that's where pedometers fit in.

For the scientifically minded: The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (www.jama.org) on Nov. 21, 2007 -- 298(19): 2296-2304, 2007. An abstract is available by clicking here, but to access the entire issue or study, you'll need to pay a fee.

>> Get your exercise and call me in the morning



Forget popping pills or wads of vitamins and supplements. Seems that getting some activity can do more for you in a quest for health that includes avoiding heart disease or cancer.

The benefit reaped is even valid for those who do eat properly, reported the November issue of the Harvard Men’s Health Watch newsletter.

Although people have taken a range of supplements to avoid cancer -- such as vitamin E, beta carotene, zinc and folic acid -- some have already proved useless while studies continue on the likes of vitamin E and selenium. In addition, B vitamins recommended to protect from heart disease have failed to show results while leafy greens and whole grains can still help.

Exercise is the one thing that still seems to be a crucial weapon in reducing the risk of some cancers. Active people are less likely to develop colon cancer or breast cancer. Evidence is still incomplete on the likes of prostate, lung and pancreatic cancers. But there is no doubt when it comes to heart disease: get a move on for a sharp reduction in risk.

So what? Supplements do not reduce cancer risk or prevent heart disease. Eating right is a first step but exercise wins hands-down every time.

For the scientifically minded: Harvard Men’s Health Watch and other health newsletters are available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for a subscription fee. More information is available at www.health.harvard.edu.

>> Functional exercises can reap big benefits in older adults in quick order

When older adults do functional exercises they can in a month improve balance, agility, flexibility, strength and endurance, study results released this month by the American Council on Exercise found.

The study out of the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, recruited 48 volunteers, ages 58 to 78. All had some form of cardiac, metabolic or orthopedic condition and all were already participating in the university's La Crosse Exercise and Health Program. Each subject was randomly assigned to either the experimental group (which would do functional exercises) or the control group (which would stick with a traditional exercise program of walking and aerobic dance). They exercised three times a week for four consecutive weeks, and each session included 12 exercises in a circuit format.

The focus of the functional program was to use several muscles and joints together rather than in isolation. Improvements were seen in lower-body strength (13 percent), upper-body strength (14 percent), cardiorespiratory endurance (7 percent), agility/dynamic balance (13 percent) and shoulder flexibility (43 percent).

So what? It’s never too late to start a structured fitness program and to see the benefits. Key, of course, is making sure participants know what to do.

For the scientifically minded: A copy of the study and the workout can be downloaded by clicking here.

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