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The mighty pedometer

Elisabeth Andrews is a media relations specialist with the IU Office of University Communications.

I once scoffed at the humble pedometer. What does a fitness enthusiast like me gain from counting steps? I have run marathons, trained athletes and taught yoga to freshmen -- I am tough. But now I have come to believe that this simplest of health devices may be the most powerful tool for change on the market.

My pedometer is tiny, about an inch tall and less than two inches wide. It clips onto my hip and counts each step I take. I was asked to purchase the pedometer for a public health class at the cost of $11. We calibrated our pedometers during class, measuring how many steps we took over 50 feet and calculating stride length by dividing 50 by the number of steps. Now the pedometer displays the mileage I have walked over the course of my day, informing me of my progress each time I snap it open.

I am astonished by how motivating that miniscule readout has been. Each time I see the numbers, I am encouraged to get up and take a few more steps. I was already active, lifting weights, running or swimming nearly every day. But the pedometer does something no other fitness tool can: it turns any moment into a fitness opportunity. With the pedometer, everything counts. Even if I only get as far as the hallway, the numbers go up; I have accomplished something. My professor Susan Middlestadt walked a mile without ever leaving her 10-by-10 foot (cluttered) office. My record is 8 miles during the course of the day, without ever going out of my way or altering my schedule.

The only problem is that it does create a dependency. Today, I was in a rush to leave the house and forgot my pedometer. Now, I don't want to bother walking to my meeting because I feel like I won't get credit for it.

No matter. At the price of $11 I can afford to leave a spare one at the office.