William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.
In this Article
- What are the benefits of stepping out with pedometers?
- What's a pedometer used for?
- How do pedometers work?
- Are pedometers accurate?
- Which type of pedometer is best for me: piezoelectric or spring-levered?
- Are pedometers accurate for measuring distance and calories?
- How many steps should I take?
- Which pedometer is accurate?
- How do I position my pedometer on my body?
- How do I know if my pedometer is accurate?
- How do I go about getting started with my first pedometer?
- How far am I walking? How many steps are there in a mile?
- How do I increase my daily steps?
- Where can I purchase a pedometer?
Which type of pedometer is best for me: piezoelectric or spring-levered?
Piezoelectric pedometers tend to be more sensitive than spring-levered at slower speeds and so they may be preferable for individuals who walk slowly. In addition, the tilt of the pedometer is critical for performance with spring-levered devices, but not so with piezoelectric devices (the piezoelectric mechanism is not position dependent). For example, a pedometer may tilt forward into the horizontal plane if an overweight individual with excess abdominal fat wears one on their waist. Tilt in a spring-levered pedometer can throw off the accuracy by as much as 20% at fast speeds and 60% at slow speeds. A piezoelectric pedometer does not have this tilt error except at the slowest speed (less than 2 mph), and the error is less than 10%.
Are pedometers accurate for measuring distance and calories?
Pedometers don't measure distance or calories burned accurately. They can be off by as much as 10% with distance and 30% with calories, which means the error could be half a mile if you walk five miles and 150 calories if you burn 500. They tend to overestimate distance at slower speeds, underestimate distance at faster speeds, and they're simply not sensitive or smart enough to detect and factor in all the variables that determine how many calories you burn when you exercise.
Due to these various errors to which pedometers are prone, I recommend a simple pedometer that measures only steps. Tell a salesman who wants to sell you a pedometer with all the bells and whistles that you prefer the simple one. The bells and whistles will cost you extra money for features that don't work.
How many steps should I take?
The precise number of steps per day necessary for health and fitness is unknown. Ten thousand steps per day is the popular recommendation, and there is accumulating evidence that this number of steps is associated with health benefits (lower blood pressure, improvements in blood glucose and insulin sensitivity), but it may not be appropriate for everyone (children, older adults, and individuals with chronic diseases). As for meeting the Surgeon General and ACSM guidelines by accumulating 10,000 steps per day, research suggests that the chances are good but it is not a guarantee. Until we know more it's reasonable to shoot for 10,000 steps per day if you are a healthy adult.
So Many Choices
There were 1,970,000 results in my most recent Google search for "pedometers." Not that there are more than one million different pedometers on the market, but there are certainly hundreds. They come as promotions in McDonald's Happy Meals and cereal boxes, they're given away at conferences, and they are readily available through sporting-goods stores and many online vendors. There are talking pedometers, pedometers that use GPS technology to measure distance, and pedometers that measure heart rate and calories burned. They come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Some have happy faces painted on them, some have corporate logos (you can have one customized), some are oval, some are square, and some are round. I even found pedometers on eBay from the 1940s that were used to promote radio shows from that era! Who knows, by the time you read this, there may even be a pedometer that does the walking for you!
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