Pedometer-based walking programs help with weight loss

People who participate in a pedometer-based walking program can be expected to lose a modest amount of weight even without changing their diet, with more weight loss the longer they stick with the program, according to a University of Michigan Health System analysis of nine studies.

Participants in the studies increased the distance they walked by one mile to slightly more than two miles each day. At an average pace of three miles per hour, that means the walkers were getting an additional 20 to 40 minutes of activity a day. On average, they lost 0.05 kilograms per week (about 0.11 pounds) for an average total of 1.27 kilograms (2.8 pounds) throughout the duration of the studies.

“The amount of weight loss attributable to pedometer-based walking programs is small but significant,” says lead author Caroline R. Richardson, M.D., assistant professor in the U-M Health System Department of Family Medicine. She notes that the analysis – which appears in the new issue of Annals of Family Medicine – also indicates that participants tended to lose more weight in the longer studies.

While pedometer-based walking programs are thought of as convenient and flexible for participants, there has been some question in the fitness and medical communities about the health benefits of such programs, Richardson notes. This analysis should quell some of those questions, she says.

“The increase in physical activity can be expected to result in health benefits that are independent of weight loss,” Richardson says. “Increasing physical activity reduces the risk of cardiovascular problems, lowers blood pressure and helps dieters maintain lean muscle tissue when they are dieting.”

Another benefit, she says, is that exercise in general has been shown to improve glucose tolerance in people with impaired glucose tolerance or type 2 diabetes.

In all, the nine studies involved 307 participants, 73 percent of whom were women and 27 percent men. The lengths of the studies ranged from four weeks to one year, with a median of 16 weeks. All but one of the studies led to a small decrease in weight.

Over a year, the analysis suggests, participants in pedometer-based walking programs can expect to lose about five pounds. While that may only mean a 2 percent to 3 percent reduction in body weight for an overweight person, Richardson notes, the program still can be beneficial. A quicker way to see results – and possibly to encourage people to adhere to the program longer – would be to add a dietary program to the walking plan, she says.

The study also found:

  • Average daily step-count increases varied from just under 2,000 steps per day to more than 4,000 steps per day across these studies. For the average person, a 2,000-step walk is approximately equal to a one-mile walk.
  • The range of weight change for the nine studies was a gain of 0.3 kilograms (0.66 pounds) to a loss of 3.70 kilograms (eight pounds), with an average weight loss of 1.27 kilograms (2.8 pounds).
  • Results from the nine studies were “remarkably consistent” and did not vary by the population targeted or the goal-setting strategies employed.

Further studies will be needed to determine the amount of long-term weight loss that can be expected from pedometer-based walking programs, Richardson notes.

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