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What are the benefits of stepping out with pedometers?

The benefits of

are well known. Decreased risk of and management of chronic

diseases like diabetes and heart disease, improvements in bone density, decreases in blood

, reduction in certain types of cancer,

increases in muscle strength and endurance, alleviation of symptoms of depression,

and elevation of mood are just some.

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The quantity of exercise necessary to accrue these benefits is also well known. There are two national

recommendations to choose from. First, the Surgeon General recommends 30

minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity on five or more days

per week to improve health and fitness.

You can accumulate it in 10- to 15-minute bouts throughout the day or do it all

at once. "Moderate intensity" physical activity means you feel warm

and slightly out of breath when you do it. And second, the American College of Sports

Medicine recommends a more formal, workout prescription of 20-60 minutes of

continuous activity, three to five times a week (at 60-90% of maximum heart

rate reserve) and two to three days of resistance

. Thirty

minutes of exercise is good for you, but objective measurement of how much

activity you actually do can be elusive. Research shows that it's possible to

overestimate your activity level or calorie expenditure by as much as 51%!

Overestimating your activity or calorie expenditure level can have undesirable

consequences; it can mislead you into thinking that you're doing enough

physical activity to improve your health or that you're doing enough activity

to burn off extra calories from a weekend binge. Overestimation of physical

activity is also a problem for exercise scientists; subjects who overestimate

their activity level confound the results of research.

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Are pedometers accurate?

The accuracy of pedometers has been carefully studied

because they are frequently used in studies and researchers demand to know if

they are reliable and accurate. Research shows that pedometers tend to count

steps more accurately at speeds greater than 3 miles per hour (mph) than at

slower speeds. Accuracy can exceed 96% when speeds exceed 3 mph, whereas the

accuracy drops to between 74% and 91% at speeds from 2 mph to 3 mph, and it

drops even further to between 60% and 71% at speeds below 2 mph. The error has

to do with the insensitivity of pedometers to detect steps when people shuffle

or drag their feet at slow speeds. Detectable vertical movement of the hips is

necessary for pedometers to work well.

Are pedometers accurate for measuring distance and


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. I recommend a simple pedometer that

measures only steps because of these errors. 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


How do I go about getting started with my first


I recommend wearing your pedometer from the moment you wake

up in the morning until the moment you go to sleep at night for one to two weeks, record the steps, and then calculate your

average daily steps. Once you know your average, you can make efforts to

increase your average daily count by 250-500 each week until you reach an

average of 10,000 steps per day.

How far am I walking? How many steps are there in a mile?

Figure 1,900-2,600 steps per mile depending on your stride

length. Stride length is dependent on (1) your leg length, and (2) how fast

you're moving. It's longer when you jog or run, compared with walking, which

means your step count will be different for the same distance depending on your

mode of activity. For example, it could take 2,400 steps to walk a mile and

2,100 steps to jog it. Power- and speed-walkers take smaller, more rapid steps

to go faster, and so they will take more steps in a mile than when walking

slower. Likewise, you will take more steps walking uphill than when walking

flat and so you need to consider that when assessing your activity level with a

pedometer. Set your pedometer to zero and walk, jog, or run a measured mile, or

half a mile and multiply by two, to determine how many steps you take per mile

for each mode of activity that you're interested in.

How do I position my pedometer on my body?

Pedometers should be worn on your waist in a line straight

up from the middle of your knee. They can be worn on either side of the body.

You can wear it on your underwear if you're wearing a dress without a waist

band, and you can wear it on your sock if you have excess abdominal fat and

can't keep your spring-levered pedometer upright. My clients who can't keep the

pedometer vertical on their waistband have had good results wearing their

pedometer on their sock.


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