Pedometers Allow Healthcare Practitioners to Track Physical Activity for Older Adults


JAGS graphicJournal of the American Geriatrics Society Research Summary

Loss of mobility is one of the leading causes of a decreased quality of life, loss of independence, and even death for us all as we age. Since physical activity is the key to helping prevent mobility loss, it’s important to maintain a decent level of physical activity for as long as possible.

Researchers for a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society now suggest that we don’t know much about how the duration and intensity of physical activity affects the development of major mobility problems.

In their study, the researchers tracked the activity of 1,590 adults between the ages of 70 and 89. To measure the participants’ activity levels, they were asked to wear a pedometer, which is a research instrument that measures how many steps you take. Participants wore the devices for at least three days for 10 hours a day while going about their daily routines. None of the participants had major mobility problems at the start of the study.

Additionally, participants were tested by taking a ¼ mile walk. They had to complete the walk within 15 minutes. They couldn’t use walkers or be assisted, and couldn’t lean on anything. But they could take a one-minute break standing up, and they could use a cane. Those who could not complete the walk within 15 minutes were scored as having major mobility problems. They were scored with having persistent major mobility problems if they were unable to complete the walk on two separate tries six months apart.

Researchers learned that the participants were sedentary, or physically inactive, about 77 percent of the time while wearing the pedometers. They spent the rest of the time performing activities that ranged in intensity, with a shorter length of time (roughly, under an hour a day) spent in activities that were more intense. Participants walked some 2,700 steps a day overall.

The researchers learned that every 30 minutes of inactivity was linked to a 17 percent rise in both major and persistent mobility problems.

“Even lower levels of activity seem to be beneficial. Many people think they need to do strenuous exercise to get benefits. However, our study suggests that even everyday activities that reduce your sitting time may be helpful,” said Thomas W. Buford, PhD, Department of Medicine, University of Alabama at Birmingham, and a co-author of the study. “Though we don’t know for sure, wearing a pedometer or other fitness tracker might encourage some older adults to become more active, or at least to discuss activity with their doctors,” added Dr. Buford.

This summary is from “Device-Measured Physical Activity as a Predictor of Disability among Mobility-Limited Older Adults.” It appears online ahead of print in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The study authors are Robert T. Mankowski, PhD; Stephen D. Anton, PhD; Robert Axtell, PhD; Shyh-Huei Chen, PhD; Roger A. Fielding, PhD; Nancy W. Glynn, PhD; Fang-Chi Hsu, PhD; Abby C. King, PhD; Andrew S. Layne, MSc; Christiaan Leeuwenburgh, PhD; Todd M. Manini, PhD; Anthony P. Marsh, PhD; Marco Pahor, MD; Catrine Tudor-Locke, PhD; David E. Conroy, PhD; and Thomas W. Buford, PhD.