Think of an accomplishment or endeavor of which you are particularly proud. Are you a great mom? A whiz at picking stocks? An amazing tennis player? Chances are you approach this particular activity with just the right blend of structure and spontaneity. Athletes and artists talk about being in "the zone," in which hours of disciplined practice combine with a sense of looseness, of not quite being in control, to produce the best performances. Dee Hock, the founder of Visa, coined the term "chaordism" (chaos plus order) to describe the combination of discipline and creativity required for business organizations to function optimally.
How can you apply the concept of chaordism to your efforts to achieve and maintain a healthy weight? First, you need to be honest with yourself about your need for structure and accountability. If, for example, you are someone who has always chafed under rules and regulations and does things best at your own pace and inÂ your own way, then Weight Watchers, with its highly detailed food guidelines and weekly weigh ins may not be the best choice for you. If, on the other hand, you respond well to having specific, measurable goals and feedback (both 'carrots' and 'sticks') then a program like Weight Watchers may work well for you.
In truth, most of us require both chaos and order. One product which caters to both needs is a pedometer. This small and inexpensive device, which clips onto a belt or waistband and counts your steps, introduces a little accountability to the most basic and unstructured form of exercise â€“ walking from place to place.
Recent research reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who wore pedometers moved more than people who didn't; in fact, they walked an extra mile a day. Also, people walked more with a pedometer if they set goals and kept track of their steps. People who did this lost a few pounds and their blood pressure also went down.
If you decide to buy a pedometer (or perhaps get one for free from your insurance company or human resources department at work), start by measuring your baseline step count. Wear your pedometer and do your usual activities for three to five days in a row. Plan to include two days that you are off from work. Then either take the average or pick the day with the highest step count as your starting number. If you currently do little walking, your average step count will probably be about 2,000 steps, which equals about one mile.
Once you've established your baseline, it's time to set your goal. Aim to add 200 daily steps each week. So if you are starting at 2,400 steps per day, your first goal is 2,600 steps. Write down the number of steps you expect to average per day each week, and remember to check to see how you're measuring up. To add extra steps, look for any reason to walk. Park farther away from the store. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk around your office during your breaks at work.If you stick with the 200 more per week, you will reach 10,000 steps in about 9 months. That's 5 miles per day - an excellent "exercise program" for weight loss or maintenance. Bottom line: If the thought of joining a gym or taking an exercise class feels like too much of a chore to you, but not doing these structured activities means you don't get much exercise, consider a pedometer for the "chaordic" alternative.
Where do you fall on the chaordic spectrum? Do you like highly structured programs or more spontaneity? Do you think a pedometer would help with your exercise program?
Dr. Suzanne Koven practices internal medicine with a special interest in weight issues at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and teaches at Harvard Medical School.
Exercise: A program you can live with
Hundreds of studies conducted over the past 50 years show that exercise helps you feel better and live longer. Exercise: A program you can live with answers many important questions about physical activity, from how your body changes through exercise to what diseases it helps prevent. It will also help guide you through starting and maintaining an exercise program that suits your abilities and lifestyle. Throughout, you'll find advice on being a savvy consumer when it comes to fitness products, as well as useful tools and tips designed to help make exercise work for you.