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Fitness: Using a Pedometer or Step Counter

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For most people, walking is an easy and low-cost way to get moving and stay fit. Using a pedometer or step counter can help you track the number of steps you take each day. Then you can set goals to take more steps and be more active.

  • Using a pedometer or step counter is an easy and fun way to track how active you are. It adds up all the steps you take during the day.
  • Using a pedometer can remind you to walk more. A quick check may show that you need more steps for the day.
  • Using a pedometer can help you set goals to take more steps in a day. You may need to find creative ways to add more steps, but walking more will help you get more exercise, feel better, and stay healthy.

A pedometer is a small device that counts the number of steps you take. It is also called a step counter.

All pedometers count steps, but there are several types. Simple pedometers just count your steps. Some digital ones not only track your steps but also tell you how far you've walked in miles. Some even tell you how many calories you have burned. But these mile and calorie readings are just an estimate and may not be accurate for you.

Pedometers are most accurate for walking. They may be less accurate for running or walking uphill, because your stride changes. But over the course of a day, a pedometer gives you a good idea of how active you are.

Pedometer prices vary. Those with several features can cost $20 or more. You can buy them at most sporting goods stores or on the Internet. Look for one that is built to last, is easy to read, and comes with a clip or a strap to attach to your waistband or belt. Make sure that it is comfortable.

Before you use your pedometer, you will need to set it. The following tips may help:

  • Depending on the type you use, your pedometer may need to be worn upright to work well. If it is tilted, or if it does not fit snugly on your body, the results may not be accurate.
  • Try wearing the pedometer in different places on your waist to find where it gives you the most accurate step count. It may be most accurate if you wear it on your side above your hip or directly above your knee. Test your pedometer by walking 50 steps. If it is off by more than a few steps, put it at a different place on your waist and try again.
  • If you have the type of pedometer that converts the number of steps into distance, you will have to set your step length. Follow the instructions on your pedometer, or try using this water method to help measure your steps:
    • Pour a small puddle of water on the sidewalk, and step into it to get the bottom of your shoes wet.
    • Step onto a dry part of the sidewalk, and walk a few steps at your normal pace.
    • Use a tape measure to find the distance between the wet heel prints of your right and left feet. This is your step length.
    • Remember that the pedometer will be most accurate when you walk at the same pace that you used to measure your step length.

Test Your Knowledge

All pedometers are the same.


It's also important just to move more. Making a point to take a few extra steps during the day can really add up. Experts say that to stay fit, it is important to be physically active for at least 2½ hours a week. Walking is one of the best things you can do to be more active. You don't have to do your walking all at once. You can split it up. It's fine to walk in spurts of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week.

Some people prefer to let a pedometer count how many steps they walk, rather than trying to keep track of how many minutes they walk. Then you can focus on enjoying your walks rather than on adding up minutes during the day.

Many people have a hard time remembering to exercise. Using a pedometer can remind you to exercise more. You can wear a pedometer all day to keep track of your total steps. When you go for a walking workout, you can easily see how many steps you have added to your routine. A quick check may show that you need more steps for the day. You may even find it fun to add more steps to such chores and errands as grocery shopping or returning a book to the library.

People are often surprised to see how little they actually move in a typical day. Wearing a step counter will let you see just how active you are. This may spur you to add more steps to your day. Studies show that people who used a pedometer were more likely to add about 2,000 steps to the number they walked each day before using a pedometer.1

Test Your Knowledge

Using a pedometer can help you to:

See how much you actually move in a typical day.
Add more steps to your day.
Focus on staying fit.

Make wearing your pedometer a habit. Put it on first thing in the morning as you are getting dressed. Leave it on until you go to bed. Follow these steps to get the best use out of your pedometer:

Step one: Find your activity level

  • For the first week, go about your usual routine. Don't change how active you are yet.
  • Write down your steps each day in a step diary. This will give you a starting record of how active you are.
  • Look over this record for the week to see where you can add steps to your daily routine.

Step two: Set goals

  • Set a goal for the second week. At first, try to add 300 to 500 steps to your day. Then work toward 2,000 more steps a day. This adds about 1 mile, or 20 minutes of walking, to your routine.
  • Increase your walking in simple ways. These suggestions can get you started, and you can probably think of other ways. To add more steps to your everyday activities:
    • Park farther than usual from your workplace or a store (or get off the bus or subway before your stop), and walk the extra distance.
    • Take the stairs rather than the elevator.
    • Walk a lap inside the grocery store before you start shopping.
    • Walk instead of driving for short trips. Walk to school, work, the grocery store, a friend's house, or a restaurant for lunch.
  • Record your steps each day.

Step three: Keep moving

  • Check how well you did from week one to week two.
  • Set a new goal for the next week.
  • Work your way up to walking at least 10,000 steps each day.

Test Your Knowledge

It's best to strap on a pedometer and start adding steps to your day right away.


Now that you have read this information, you are ready to start using a pedometer. For more information on how walking can help keep you healthy, see Click here to view an Actionset.Fitness: Walking For Wellness.

Talk with your doctor

If you have questions about this information, print it out and take it with you when you visit your doctor. You may want to mark areas or make notes in the margins where you have questions.

For more information, see the topics Weight Management and Fitness: Getting and Staying Active.

Other devices

If you want to keep track of more than your steps, some electronic devices can measure your steps and activity, can calculate the calories you use, and can even track your sleep patterns. These devices usually work with online tracking tools and applications. Some of these devices are worn on the arm. Others can be attached to your clothing.

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  1. Bravata DM, et al. (2007). Using pedometers to increase physical activity and improve health. JAMA, 298(19): 2296–2304.

Other Works Consulted

  • Bravata DM, et al. (2007). Using pedometers to increase physical activity and improve health. JAMA, 298(19): 2296–2304.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerHeather Chambliss, PhD - Exercise Science
Last RevisedOctober 25, 2011

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