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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Exercise

Pedometer Pointers

Linda S. Rellergert, MS, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension

Pedometers are the latest craze in fitness equipment. Like stair steppers, rowing machines and stationary bicycles, pedometers will not help anyone achieve fitness unless they are put to use. Consider these points before buying a pedometer.

Many of us think we are more active and walk farther or longer than we actually do. Pedometers can give you a more accurate picture of how active you are. Generally, we spend much of our day behind a desk, in front of a computer, or otherwise sitting. You may be shocked to find out how few steps you take in a typical day.

Pedometers can be a great motivational tool as you see your step count climb. A quick check lets you see at a glance how active you’ve been, and spur you on to get in a few more steps.

Simply wearing the pedometer is not enough. To be of real value, pedometer readings must be recorded so you can see if you are meeting the activity goals you set for yourself. Are you willing to develop the habit of writing down these numbers on a daily basis?

Pedometers can be used either on a daily basis to keep track of total steps, or only during times you choose to get some exercise. Wearing the pedometer daily has a couple of advantages. First, it gives you a better overall picture of how active you are. And, second, you are more likely to keep using it.

Along with counting steps, pedometers that calculate distance, time spent in activity and calories used are also available. Calculating distance and calories requires some programming on the part of the user. The calorie use feature is especially prone to inaccuracy. Simplicity has its merits, so be sure you will use these extra features before paying for them.

Of course, price varies too. Inexpensive pedometers tend to be noisy, harder to use, and may not last as long as those of better quality. Expect to pay $20 to $25 for a good quality, simple pedometer at sporting goods stores or from web-based catalogs. Be sure to buy a safety leash or strap if available to keep the pedometer from falling to the floor or into the toilet. If buying locally, ask the sales clerk to open the package so you can try it on and read the instructions that come with it.

Some pedometers also come with a log book for keeping track of your steps or miles. You may instead want to purchase a little pocket notebook to jot down the date and your data. Keeping a log is a very important part of using the pedometer.

These tips may help you use a pedometer properly:

  • Keep the pedometer close to the body and as horizontal as possible. Pedometers must be parallel to the ground to work correctly. If tilted to one side, or if it does not fit snugly next to the body, it will not be accurate. Men usually have no problem attaching the pedometer to their clothing because they usually have a belt or waistband that fits close to the body. Women may have to attach the pedometer to their underclothes if wearing a loose fitting jumper or dress.
  • The two most common places for accurate placement are directly above the knee or on the side over the hip. Experiment with placement to find the best spot for your body.
  • Try out different positions for the pedometer by walking 50 or 100 steps on a level surface and comparing that number to the reading on your pedometer. Be sure to put the pedometer on first and reset it to zero just before you take the first step.
  • Keep in mind that walking on slopes, up and down stairs, or bent over will affect the accuracy of the pedometer.
  • Develop a routine for putting on the pedometer first thing in the morning and for recording the steps when you take it off just before bedtime. Keep a pen and your log book in a handy place so you’re less likely to forget.
  • If your pedometer can be programmed to convert steps to distance, follow instructions carefully. Robert Sweetgal in his book, Pedometer Walking, suggests a puddle walk technique for measuring step length. Pour some water on a hard, level sidewalk or driveway to make a puddle. Step in the water to thoroughly wet the soles of your shoes. Walk away from the puddle at a natural pace, leaving a clear trail of wet heel-to-toe footprints. Use a tape measure to find the distance between the heel-strike of the left footprint and the heel-strike of the right footprint. This is your step length.
  • Use the first week with your pedometer to establish a baseline for future comparison. That is, go about your normal daily routine while wearing your pedometer but don’t change your activity pattern. After you see what you’ve been doing, you can determine if you need to be more active. Set a goal that you can reach, for example, an additional 200 steps per day. When you have established this new level of activity, you can set a new goal for yourself.
  • While it is important to make your goal fit you, people often ask how many steps they should take. Most people will see improvement in their energy level, strength and lung capacity if they increase by 2000 steps per day. That’s about a mile or approximately 15 to 20 minutes of walking, something that almost everyone can do.







Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009





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