The study, led by Caroline R. Richardson, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the U-M Medical School and research scientist at the Veterans Affairs Health Services Research, was based on walking study.
In the study, 35 individuals with type 2 diabetes participated, who were both sedentary and overweight, and were interested in starting a walking program.
All the volunteers were given a pedometer that tracked walking and had a built in USB port so that the walking data could be automatically uploaded to the study Web site.
Each participant could view his or her step count records and new goals, along with tailored motivational messages and tips about walking, on a personalized study home page.
Richardson noted that the focus in the study was on people with type 2 diabetes because exercise is thought to be essential to prevent a worsening of the condition and the development of complications such as nerve damage.
Among the 30 participants who completed the study, steps taken during longer walks lasting 10 minutes or more increased by about 1,900 to 2,700 steps a day, and the increases were roughly the same in both the lifestyle and structured groups.
For half of the participants the goals were "lifestyle goals," meaning that any step taken during the day counted. The other half received "structured goals," in which only steps taken during long walks that lasted at least 10 minutes counted. These participants had a smaller target number of steps to take in a day than the lifestyle group.
Even though the lifestyle-goals group had every step counted, they, like their counterparts in the other group, chose to increase their walking by taking longer walks rather than by accumulating more steps during many short walks.
The participants in both groups increased their walking significantly during the program and there was no difference between the groups in terms of increased walking.
However, the type of goals that participants were given in the six-week study strongly influenced their satisfaction with the program.
Those who received lifestyle goals were more satisfied with the walking program, and wore the pedometer more days during the study period and for more hours during each day than those who received structured goals.
"Walkers in the group where every step counted experienced the same benefit as those who just had their bout steps recorded," Richardson said.
"The fact that they were also more satisfied with their program suggests that this approach may be more successful for many people than a program that only recognizes long periods of activity," she said.
The new study also suggested that certain types of goal setting might be more effective than others.
The study is issued in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity.