Thursday, July 17, 2003

Gadgets measure the road to fitness

By Shauna Scott Rhone
The Cincinnati Enquirer

To step or not to step.

That was my question when I first heard about the nationwide 10,000 steps program, sponsored by Shape Up America. Founded in 1994 by former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, the program encourages Americans to take at least 10,000 steps a day to improve their overall health.

It made sense for me to lace up my Ryka walking shoes and start counting. Ten thousand steps seems like a lot, but organizers say regular walking from one room to another, from the car to work or around the grocery store or the mall counts toward the total.

The best way to keep track of all those paces is to buy a pedometer that counts them for you. Sporting goods departments have displays covered with them. Some count steps. Some count steps, distance and calories. Which one is best?

By purely random selection, I went to two different stores in search of the perfect pedometer. Both shops had a respectable selection and a few units had almost identical features. I relied on the salespeople's recommendations and purchased a total of five pedometers: Sportsline's 341 digital and 330 electronic step (14.99 each), Ultrak's 275 calorie ($15.99) and 210 analog pedometers ($18.99) and the Robic M-317 ($21.99).

Since I work downtown, I chose one of the most accessible paths I could use - Paul Brown Stadium. I carefully clipped each of the pedometers around my waist, slapped my radio headphones on and the challenge was on.

I circled the stadium three times to give the pedometers a good workout and headed back to the office.

Maybe it was the positioning of the pedometers, but each one gave a different reading for my brisk 30-minute walk.

I knew it had been 30 minutes because the Robic told me. I guess it kept such good time it forgot to keep up with my steps.

The Sportsline 341 and Ultrak 210 analog only had mile marker features. Both gave very different results. The Sportsline said I walked 5.5 miles while the Ultrak only caught 1.75 miles of my walk.

The last two, the Sportsline 330 and the Ultrak 275, counted my steps. Well, sort of. The Sportsline credited me with 2,673 paces; the Ultrak announced in large numbers an impressive total: 5,725 steps.

Why the disparity? Victor Roth from Bob Roncker's Running Spot in O'Bryonville suggests it might lie with the pedometers' placements around my waist. He thinks the swing of my gait may have caused the inaccurate counts.

"As you walk, (the pedometer) measures the tap of the leg or movement of the body," says Roth. He also says placing a pedometer on a higher waistband (typically a woman's waist is higher) may also contribute to an incorrect measurement.

Roth suggests that the best way to check before starting your 10,000 step trek is to go to a premeasured route, like the bike trail at Lunken Airport, and walk a mile with your pedometer to see how it reads your walk.

Just to be sure, I went back for another round at Paul Brown, this time in deep concentration. I did the mental pedometer method, verbally counting each of my steps once around the stadium. Walking as close as possible to the center of the walkway, my final count was 1,395 steps. Walkers with different gaits may be over or under my total.

After doing the math, (and factoring in the walk from the Enquirer office to the stadium) the Sportsline seemed to be the most accurate device. Still, bodies and gaits are different, so do some homework, and talk to sports store merchants to find the pedometer that works best for you and your needs.

Keeping in pace with technology

Does your fitness mind lean to more linear accomplishments? There are a number of high-end products that are fashionable enough to be mistaken for watches. One even attaches to your Palm Pilot. They count distance by kilometers and miles, not by steps.

• Nike's SDM Triax 100 ($235) has auto-lap, speed and total distance traveled features. Comes with a sensor that attaches to your shoelaces to monitor and transmit movements in a moment. Looks like a watch, works like a personal trainer.

• Ironman Triathlon Mega-Lap Sleek by Timex ($70) boasts a 200 lap, split and workout memory and keeps a training log with the best and average lap on a weekly or daily basis.

• People who have Palm Pilots will benefit from the Handmark PDA Fitness Expansion Card ($29.99). You can create, view and edit workout sessions and print them out after downloading the information into the Pilot. A wired way to monitor fitness progress.


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