Pedometers can help you monitor your activity levels and make sure you take your 10,000 steps a day
"You need to walk for your life!" commanded the doctor who informed me I had just flunked both the fitness and ideal weight test at my recent check-up. "Go for 10,000 steps a day - and get a pedometer to tell you when you've done it," he ordered.
I had heard about those 10,000 steps, now considered as essential for optimum health as your five-a-day. However, like every couch potato, I regarded this figure with some trepidation.
Even 1,000 steps sounds a lot to someone who works from home and has days when she does not even get up the road to buy a paper. But I could grudgingly concede that a step-measuring device might stimulate a sense of competitiveness, driving me to at least beat my own best performance every day.
Cost need not be an obstacle, I discovered, with so many pedometers on the market - the diet guru Rosemary Conley puts a pretty little pink one out for just £5.99. But the doctor recommended one of the gold-plated options, metaphorically speaking - which is how I developed an intimate relationship with a little beetle-shaped device called Fitbug.
This is a brilliant invention launched five years ago by Paul Landau, which has now had uptake from BUPA and other healthcare providers. Landau, a management consultant who put on weight when he became deskbound, had the great idea of an exercise device whose data you could upload to a computer, in order to monitor achievements and at the same time deliver diet tips and other motivational material.
Imagine my bliss when I discovered I had taken 261 steps before breakfast
I decided to just stick the pedometer in my dressing-gown pocket upon rising and see what the paltry daily total amounted to for a typical home-worker. Imagine my bliss when I discovered I had somehow taken 261 steps before sitting down to breakfast, and achieved a total of nearly 2,500 by bedtime without actually going anywhere. I credit the fact my office is upstairs and I go up and down several times a day, as well as out into the garden once or twice to water and talk to the plants.
That euphoria subsided when I realised I had achieved only one quarter of a healthy exercise goal, so I took an outing from the village where I live to my local town, where I usually make a weekend sortie to meet friends for coffee, to shop at the supermarket and do other errands. This usually involves parking at a convenient spot between the different venues and walking. The result? A more serious 6,000 steps.
But the real test had to be going into the city. If I was zipping around London, I figured, I would surely notch up thousands of steps just changing Tube lines. I am happy to report the actual day's total was 12,000 for a busy day which started in Kensington, saw me walking in Hyde Park, going on to Whitechapel by bus, then back to Kensington and finally to Charing Cross for the train home. It helped that my hotel was a good eight minutes from the nearest Tube, and that the Serpentine Gallery is a bit of a shlep from public transport.
However, my trips into London are rare, so I have realised that I need to plan a specific half-hour walk from my front door and even that still only notches up two-thirds of the recommended total.
Although slightly dispirited, I have never stopped wearing the Fitbug - and the brilliant thing is that the device has refused to give up on me, even though I have never uploaded any data. First I received an email remarking that I had not logged in for a few days and encouraging me to upload my step totals. I have not yet mastered an upload, but I still receive email invitations to submit a weekly progress report.
I also get useful hints about how to improve my exercise totals and nutrition; there cannot be many pedometers set up to record whether I have had enough fruit, veg and water for the day as well as chivvying me up to exceed my last best step-count.
For a few pounds a month, an intelligent pedometer is a lot cheaper than a personal trainer, and its weekly email check on your progress, strangely, almost as motivational. With 25,000 memberships in five years, including a tie-up with Holmes Place in Israel, Landau must be doing something right - and I feel reassured that Fitbug has clearly been programmed to persist until I finally tell it how I'm doing and can report I am regularly achieving the magic 10,000 steps.
More information at www.fitbug.com