Omron Tri-Axis Pocket Pedometer ($39.99 at City Sports) isn't among the cheapest pieces of fitness gear out there, but I think it's among the best. And it's certainly one of the tiniest — it won't take up a corner of your bedroom or basement, and it won't gather dust. You'll never haul it guiltily to the curb on trash day, like the many exercise bikes and stair climbers that land in Back Bay alleys.
Nor will you have to clip it to your belt for all the world to see; you're paying a premium for its tri-axis technology, which counts steps accurately even when the pedometer is in your pocket or handbag. (I also tuck mine into a boot or the waistband of my tights.)
I appreciate not looking like a dork (or more like a dork) when I'm walking around. I've always had certain standards, which include not wearing running shoes or exercise clothing when I'm not working out. I know running shoes are comfortable, but I believe they look dorky. So I do my routine walking in boots or sandals, and wear exercise clothes only when I'm working up a sweat on Beacon Hill's steepest streets. A few years ago, my health plan sent me a free pedometer after I signed up to participate in their walking program. It turned out to be an oversized, bright-blue plastic box with their logo splashed boldly across the front. No way would I be seen wearing that clipped to my person. I immediately quit the program and threw out the pedometer.
But my health plan was onto something: There's nothing more motivating than a pedometer when you're trying to increase your daily exercise. You're probably tired of hearing the recommendation that we should all aim to walk at least 10,000 steps a day (about 5 miles), including 30 to 60 minutes at a moderate pace. I thought I had it covered. I knew I easily logged a few miles around town on many days of the week. But I recently realized that there are other days — and sometimes whole weeks — when I'm busy with a project, or the weather is lousy, and I barely leave the house. Our recent too-hot summer kept me indoors a lot; I probably walked less than 2,000 steps a day. Between being periodically sedentary and having a middle-aged metabolism, I've packed on some extra pounds.* I knew it was time to increase my walking, and do it consistently.
This pedometer has been an enormous help — I'm competing with myself every day and I enjoy meeting my daily goal. I make sure I get my 10,000 steps even if it means I'm fast-walking around the house for several minutes before bedtime, upsetting the cats. But I usually exceed 10,000 steps before dinner, even on the days I take strength-training classes. I'll probably increase my daily goal to 12,000 steps soon. (The average Amish woman — our closest approximation to our pre-automobile ancestors — takes about 14,000 steps a day. But have you seen the average Amish woman? She is round like a dumpling. But have you eaten her food? The Amish live on dumplings, gravy, doughnuts, chicken pot pie, shoe-fly-pie, and scrapple. I can resist most of that.)
While I'm sure I often walked healthy distances before I got the pedometer, doing it every day is making a difference. I feel better and I sleep better. I'm spending more time away from the computer, outside in fresh air, observing the world and clearing my head. After about a month, my clothes are already a bit looser.
Here's my total step tally for the past three weeks:
I'm averaging a little over 6 miles a day, which usually includes a few local errands and a more distant destination, like Coolidge Corner or the North End. My more intense exercise route, around Beacon Hill, adds up to about 8,000 steps. I try to do that twice a week. I'm a little worried about what I'll do when the streets are icy, but there's always the mall. Ugh! But, on the other hand, I can read a book while walking at a decent pace. That's how I walked back and forth to school for many years, immersed in classics like Anne of Green Gables. I don't read on Boston streets because people stare at me and I'm likely to get hit by an equally distracted bicyclist.
Almost all of my outdoor walking qualifies as "moderate" exercise, which surprised me. It's just my usual pace. I suspect that most Bostonians walk naturally at the same pace, which feels normal here but is considered "brisk" almost anywhere else.
You can find this Omron pedometer at lower prices online. And check the back of your Back Bay Shaw's grocery receipt for that 20%-off coupon from City Sports, which is what I did. It can change your habits, and that can quietly improve your health.
* These didn't help.