Using step-counters leads to sustained increases in physical activity
New research has found that the use of step-count monitors, such as pedometers, body-worn trackers and smartphone applications, increases physical activity for sustained periods.
Researchers from the Population Health Research Institute at St George’s, University of London, performed a meta-analysis, assessing the results of 57 trials into step-counting and physical activity. The results showed that the intervention group had an average increase of more than 1,000 steps per day at six months, and an increase of almost 500 steps per day at the three to four years’ follow-up period.
Published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, the study also found that newer, wearable devices were no more effective at increasing step counts than simple traditional pedometers. The studies included more than 16,000 participants in total. The majority of included trials involved individuals who had attended community-based health services, often due to being physically inactive. The studies compared those that had received interventions that incorporated step-counting into their support, versus those that had received usual care without step-counting.
While previous studies have shown the value of step-counting interventions, this study is the first to encompass newer wearable devices and smartphone applications. It also includes the most recent studies with longer follow-up of participants. The results show that step-counting, by any method, increases physical activity in both the short- and long-term, with walking being an ideal behaviour change route for health practitioners to target.
Dr Umar Chaudhry, a Clinical Teaching Fellow in Public Health at St George’s, University of London and part-time GP, completed this systematic review as part of his Academic Clinical Fellowship in Primary Care. As first author on the paper, he explains:
“Simple changes that people can make to their daily lives are the ones that are most likely to stick and make a difference. Our study shows that by just encouraging step-counting through the use of pedometers, apps or wearable devices, it is possible to bring about long-term improvements in physical activity.
“This is great news for GPs who, like myself, can feel confident in issuing ‘exercise prescriptions’ to increase walking in patients who are physically less active using step-count monitors. Increased physical activity can have improvements on both physical and mental health, with even small changes going a long way towards a healthier lifestyle.”