STEP BY STEP; DIGITAL TRACKER KEEPS TABS ON YOUR EVERY MOVEMENT

ONE, TWO, BUCKLE my shoe.

But how many steps does it take to get to the front door? Out to the car? Or at work, over to the water cooler?

You’ll become aware of the power of every step with the new digital tracker called SportBrain. High technology comes to the pedometer with the little gray “personal fitness assistant” created by the Sunnyvale company of the same name.

Unlike standard pedometers with their pre-set strides, the digital motion sensor tracks hip movements. Then, through a port that plugs into phone lines like an answering machine, data is uploaded to the company Web site (www.sportbrain.com) where steps are counted, charted and calculated into calories burned.

You may never look at that walk from the car to the grocery store the same way again.

Personal fitness programs like the ones by HealtheTech and Vivonic can help you track diet and exercise. These bulkier, usually Palm-system-based products are more sophisticated in that respect but don’t have the motion sensor. All the SportBrain software resides on the Web site, so the only thing the user needs is Internet access there is no monthly cost.

At $99, the SportBrain has sold in the tens of thousands since its October debut, probably helped by an “Oprah” appearance. The suggested daily goal is about 10,000 steps (about five miles), but users have become number-crunching converts. (After all, you’d know exactly how many steps it would take to walk off dessert.) A month or so ago, chief marketing officer and co-founder Michele Hickford, who writes the daily messages on the company site, joked offhandedly, “let me know if you hit a million steps.” She immediately became inundated, and is still receiving e-mail.

However, the average American accomplishes only half of the daily five-mile goal. Out of curiosity, on Thursday we hooked up six people including myself in six different occupations for one full day, to see how many steps it takes to do their job (the other two are on Page 3). With the SportBrain, you can run, but you can’t hide.

Firefighter

Name: Joel Primrose

Workplace: Station 83, Antioch.

Distance: 22,188 steps or 9.4 miles.

Calories burned: 964, or 1.8 cheeseburgers.

Exercise off-hours: Cross-country skiing, five-mile runs about three times a week, long-distance bike riding.

Comments: “It wasn’t even in the way,” Primrose says. The Gentry Town Drive station is a pretty busy one, and Thursday was no exception. He did leave the SportBrain behind once or twice when he changed clothes, but most of the time it stayed with him.

He would use it only out of curiosity, but sees it as useful for anyone who wants to monitor their overall fitness. “It kind of gives them an idea, a kind of a benchmark to measure off of.” The device would wave a flag if someone is busy one month, then started dropping off the next. “People in general are curious about how their bodies work, and how active they are. We’re just kind of a number-crunching people in the country. We like to categorize everything.”

Occupational hazard: “I took a little ribbing from the guys. Where’s your little friend?'”

Letter carrier

Name: Byron Rudy

Workplace: Livermore Post Office

Distance: 22.060 steps or 8.4 miles

Calories burned: 693 or 1.3 cheeseburgers.

Exercise off-hours: Bike riding, push-ups, sit-ups. Ran for 20 years before hip problems.

Comments: Rudy wore a pedometer in the early ’80s and measured his old beat as 15 miles. Now his route covers a range of 9-10 miles. He couldn’t even tell the SportBrain was even there while wearing it, and thinks it’s best for those starting out.

For him, “I don’t think it’s so interesting (to check) on a daily basis, maybe once in a while out of curiosity.” The job keeps him fit. Otherwise there’s “nothing like a bike ride in the country.”

Emergency room nurse

Name: Joan McIver-Beck

Workplace: John Muir Memorial Hospital, Walnut Creek

Distance: 3.3 miles

Calories burned: 251 or 0.5 cheeseburgers.

Exercise off-hours: Run two-three miles two times a week, Jazzercise, horseback riding, dog-walking.

Comments: “On a real busy day in ER, it can be six to seven miles. The only reason I estimated this was a friend at work has a pedometer,” McIver-Beck says. Since the SportBrain was at her workplace, it didn’t count the half block she takes to walk from the parking lot.

She’s never worn a pedometer before, but she too would only wear it out of curiosity. With the exercise before and after work, plus tending two kids ages 11 and 15, she gets plenty of movement.

Preschool teacher

Name: Louise Lyman

Workplace: Bright Star Montessori School, Albany

Distance: 2.4 miles

Calories burned: 298, or 0.6 cheeseburgers

Exercise off-hours: Walking to and from work.

Comments: Lyman had to check a few times to make the SportBrain hadn’t fallen off, since she couldn’t feel it. She wore a pedometer before, in the early ’80s, when she started a walking program. Now she has resumed walking again, from her El Cerrito home to the job.

A Montessori is different from a preschool in that the kids have three hours of classroom time. However, once “out on the yard, it’s constant back and forth.” She likes the concept of the tracker. After all, some days how you feel doesn’t correlate to how much energy you’ve actually expended, and the SportBrain can give you a reality check. “It really lets you see progress,” she says. “I need all the motivation I can get.”

Accountant

Name: LaVerne Braxton

Workplace: Self-employed, Berkeley

Distance: 2.3 miles or 6,337 steps

Calories burned: 214, or 0.4 cheeseburgers

Exercise off-hours: Walking three-four times a week.

Comments: Especially with April 16 looming, Braxton doesn’t get to budge much. “I’m behind a desk all day,” says the tax preparer and accountant, although she does make trips to San Francisco where she consults.

As a numbers person, she thinks SportBrain appeals to people who are “used to getting things quantified.” Given the standard office environment, “so many of us are isolated to some extent. (The device) is a source of feedback.”

She finds it interesting, especially since she walks for exercise around the Richmond Marina. The El Sobrante resident keeps it to 30 minutes, so how far depends on how she feels. With the new shoreline paths, “I think you can walk to Berkeley but I haven’t got that far.”

Journalist

Name: Vera H-C Chan

Workplace: Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek

Distance: 7.2 miles or 16,583 steps

Calories burned: 600, or 1.1 cheeseburgers

Exercise off-hours: Cardio kickboxing, martial arts, infrequent jogging

Comments: The TV critic accuses me of cheating, but I do occasionally jog to work along the canal trail and my car was in the shop. From Pleasant Hill BART to work, I ran 2.8 miles at an average 5.3 mph. The one-hour cardio workout at my Concord kickboxing club (which I left 15 minutes early to review a show) burned 3,453 steps. That left 8,093 workday steps, and that alone was 80 percent of the daily goal.

Unlike the other participants who didn’t have to log in, I could really appreciate the minute-by-minute calculations. Plus, I compared my progress with the next day, which I spent driving around picking up SportBrains. My car logged in 98 miles, I logged in 1.8 (a third of a cheeseburger). With a sporadic schedule like mine, the SportBrain could keep me honest.

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