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Walking your way to better health

  • Story Highlights
  • Pedometers are an easy way to increase your level of physical activity.
  • We test the Fitbug to see if it gives our reporter much-needed motivation
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By Grace Wong
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Walking is one of the easiest ways to boost physical activity, but if you're like me, you probably don't do enough of it.

The Fitbug calculates the steps you take and calories you burn.

The Fitbug calculates the steps you take and calories you burn.

CNN's medical show "Vital Signs" recently launched a Facebook application that lets you share your health resolutions with your friends. I've pledged to walk more in 2009, but I haven't made much headway with that goal.

Walking 10,000 steps a day is one of the ways many people choose to meet their recommended guidelines for physical activity as set out by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

I usually love walking, but London's dreary winter has me seriously lacking motivation. In a bid to get on track, I've decided to try out a step counter.

The Fitbug is a smart pedometer -- it keeps track of your daily steps, and you can upload the stats onto your computer. Will this be the gadget that helps me break out of my winter gloom?

The expert's view

Pedometers have what researchers call a "short feedback loop," which means they give you the opportunity to immediately impact the information they relay, according to Dr. Dena Bravata, a senior research scientist at Stanford University.

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If you have a goal of walking 8,000 steps and your pedometer shows you're only halfway there -- you can take a stroll around the block and immediately you're closer to achieving your goal, she explains.

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A systematic review she conducted in 2007 on studies about pedometer use showed that participants who used a pedometer increased the number of steps they take per day by more than 2,000, when compared to people who didn't wear them.

While many devices now offer high-tech features like data uploading, any simple step counter can be effective, Bravata says. The key is to maintain a record of your steps and set a specific goal.

"Having a step diary is clearly associated with greater improvements in physical activity. But there is no clear evidence that being able to upload that data makes pedometers more effective," she says.

Read about other health monitoring gadgets

My experience

Before I can get my Fitbug activated, I have to register it online and download some software. You synch up the Fitbug to your computer via a USB cable.

The process if fairly painless and straightforward. I set up a login, am prompted to name my Bug and take a health questionnaire. After that's completed, I'm ready to get walking.

Despite being described as pocket-sized, the Fitbug isn't exactly sleek. I try clipping it to the pocket of my jeans but find it too clunky and instead settle on keeping it in my bag.

I don't have much time to keep an eye on my daily progress, so it's a good thing when I receive a text message from Fitbug reminding me to upload my stats. When I do, I'm fairly surprised at the results.

I've always thought of myself as a fairly active person, but that's clearly not the case. There isn't one day where I've broken 10,000 steps. I start to get in the habit of checking my Bug a few times a day and even modify the route I take to work to get some extra mileage in.

The verdict

I'd never really thought about how many steps I take each day and it definitely made me aware of how little I move around, especially when I'm in the office. Although, I wish the Bug was slimmer -- sometimes I'd forget to tote my bag with me -- so I lost out on some critical steps.

I'm not good about keeping a step diary, so being able to upload my information definitely made life much easier. Plus, the Bug holds your data for up to two weeks before it is overwritten.

The device offers many bells and whistles that an ordinary pedometer doesn't. It calculates the calories you burn, you can maintain a food log on the site and there are also online forums where Fitbug users can share their stories and questions.

But it also costs more than your average step counter. It's sold on a subscription basis -- for $140 (or £84 for members in the U.K.) you get the pedometer and a 12-month subscription.

If you have time to make the most of all the special features, the Fitbug is a worthwhile investment. Otherwise, an ordinary pedometer and a notepad will do just fine.

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