The Power of Pedometers: Step Your Way to a Healthier Workplace

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 6, 2015 8:00:00 AM / by Deborah Lechner

Are you using pedometers as part of your workplace wellness program? If not, you probably should be. When used properly, these simple little devices have been shown to be associated with significant improvements in the health of workers. According to research published by JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association), the use of a pedometer is associated with significant increases in physical activity and improvements in important health markers – factors that can certainly make a difference as you work towards the goal of creating a safe, healthy workplace.

Pedometers are small, inexpensive devices that measure the number of steps a person takes throughout the day. Physical therapists, who often aid employers in the occupational setting of formulating and implementing employee wellness programs, frequently use pedometers as a means of promoting physical activity. Physical activity plays an important role in overall health, wellness, and fitness, which in turn works to promote injury prevention and reduction in the workplace.

A systematic review conducted by Bravata et. al. and published by JAMA examined the impact of pedometer use on worker physical activity by analyzing data from 27 research articles, including 8 randomized controlled trials (RCTs). The goal was to evaluate whether or not pedometers increased the overall physical activity of users.

Results showed that pedometers did significantly increase physical activity, but especially when their use was combined with a step goal. Workers who wore a pedometer and had a step goal registered nearly 2,000 more steps per day than those who did not use a pedometer or used one without a step goal.

Researchers also examined data within some of the studies chosen for this review that evaluated the impact of pedometer use on important health markers. That data showed that the increased physical activity prompted by these devices resulted in statistically significant reductions in blood glucose levels, lipid LDL levels, and body mass index – factors considered important indicators of an individual's overall health status. These results suggest that pedometer use can reduce the negative health impact of sedentary behavior.

Another very important finding of this meta-analysis was that pedometer use resulted in significant reductions in blood pressure, and that those reductions were not linked to decreases in body mass index. Systolic blood pressure was decreased by almost 4 mm Hg from baseline in pedometer users  a particularly interesting finding given the fact that most of the participants were normotensive (had normal blood pressure readings) at baseline. It is also quite interesting in terms of overall health status, since reducing systolic blood pressure by 2 mm Hg has been associated with a 10 percent reduction in stroke mortality and a 7 percent decrease in mortality from vascular causes according to study authors.

As attractive as these findings are, simply handing out pedometers for your employees to wear is not enough. Providing structure and accountability in the form of realistic, achievable step goals are essential to make these devices an effective part of your healthy workplace goals.

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Deborah Lechner

Written by Deborah Lechner

Deborah Lechner, ErgoScience President, combines an extensive research background with 25-plus years of clinical experience. Under her leadership, ErgoScience continues to use the science of work to improve workplace safety, productivity and profitability.