Pedometers are simple electronic devices that detect vertical movement at the hip and measure the number of steps taken. From that they estimate the distance walked. In the case of pedometer apps on a smartwatch the movement of the wrist is measured instead, and the steps are estimated from there. In both cases pedometers are useful little devices that can help you meet your fitness goals by providing an easy way to see your current physical activity, set reasonable goals to increase it, and hold yourself accountable if you do not. Simply clip a pedometer to your hip, or a smartwatch to your wrist and go about your day.

Challenges do remain in using a pedometer though. In the following excerpt from the book Real Cause, Real Cure by Jacob Teitelbaum, MD and Bill Gottlieb, CHC the authors explain the difference a pedometer can make, and how to get the most from a pedometer or a similar app.

The Pedometer: Step by Step to Better Health

There’s one type of exercise that more people choose than any other—probably because it’s easy, enjoyable, and low cost, and can fit into your daily schedule without a lot of fuss and muscle.


And walking has a lot of fans among health-minded scientists. “Walking is the best way to stay active,” James Hill, PhD, a professor at the University of Colorado and coauthor of The State of Slim, told us. Dr. Hill is also the cofounder of the National Weight Control Registry (, a database of lifestyle information about more than 3,000 people who have lost a lot of weight and kept it off. Almost all of those folks have regular physical activity as a weight-maintenance strategy, and for most of them, the physical activity is (you guessed it) walking.

“If I could change one thing in America to improve everyone’s health, it would be to get people walking more,” said Dr. Hill. And the most reliable way to walk more, he added, is to use a pedometer, a device that counts the number of steps you take.

Dr. Nieman agrees. “Oftentimes, people who have never been motivated to exercise are motivated by a pedometer,” he said.

I’ll talk in a moment about why a pedometer is so powerfully persuasive. But before I do that, let’s take a close look at a fascinating study that proves pedometers can help power you out the door and around the block.

The Best Goal: Steps, Not Minutes

Fifty-eight women who weren’t exercising regularly participated in the study, which was con ducted by researchers from the Kinesiology, Recreation & Sport Studies at the University of Tennessee. The researchers divided the women into two groups. One group was instructed to take a brisk, 30-minute walk on most days of the week. The other group was instructed to walk 10,000 steps a day.

During the next four weeks, the women told to walk 30 minutes a day walked an average of 8,270 steps a day. However, they didn’t walk a lot every day: They walked 9,505 steps on the day they took a walk, and only 5,597 steps on the day they didn’t. Meanwhile, the women told to walk 10,000 steps walked an average of 10,159 steps every day.

In other words, the women told to walk 10,000 steps averaged about 2,000 more steps per day—an additional mile’s worth of daily physical activity! “The 10,000-step approach gets people more active every single day,” Dixie Thompson, PhD, the study leader, told us.

Here’s another way to look at these results. Experts in the use of the pedometer say that it takes 9,000 to 10,000 steps, five days a week, to meet the surgeon general’s activity recommendation for 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. That means the women who were told to count their steps using a pedometer met the surgeon general’s recommendation, while the women told to take a 30-minute walk didn’t meet it! “It is incredible that the pedometer could help sedentary people meet the criteria for the surgeon general’s recommendation, because that goal is so rarely achieved,” said Caroline Richardson, MD, a research professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, and an expert in using pedometers to help people walk more.

Am I Exercising Too Hard for My Own Good?

There’s an easy way to tell if you’re exercising harder than is probably good for you: the talk test. “When you’re exercising, try to count out loud or recite a verse of a familiar song,” explained Vik Khanna, a clinical exercise specialist certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.

If you can talk easily, you’re exercising in a comfortable and beneficial range. But if it’s hard to talk—if you say (for example), “Mary had a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow,” and you can’t say the entire phrase without stopping, and have to repeatedly catch your breath (Mary BREATH had BREATH a little lamb BREATH)—then you’re probably exercising too hard.

A simple rule of thumb: If it feels too hard, it is too hard.

The Convenient Coach

Why is a pedometer so persuasive?

This handy little device helps you do the three things that behavioral scientists say you must do in order to make any positive change:

  1. Set a goal.
  2. Monitor the goal yourself.
  3. Feel the satisfaction of success once you’ve reached the goal.

Let’s take a closer look at how having a pedometer as your literal sidekick—a constant coach and pal—helps you earn three stars from behavioral scientists

•Set a goal. To set and reach a goal, you have to know two things: (1) where you are, and (2) where you want to go. “You can’t change your behavior unless you know what your behavior is,” explained Dr. Richardson.

If you don’t know how many steps you’re taking, you can’t increase your steps. And without a pedometer, you don’t know and can’t know. Studies show that non-pedometer step estimates are usually way, way off.

Bottom line: Pedometers show you exactly how much you’re walking, so you can set a goal to walk more.

•Monitor the goal yourself. The pedometer also allows you to monitor whether or not you’ve reached your goal—and it does so instantly, since your daily step count is hanging out on your hip, your wrist or in your pocket.

“Pedometers give you instantaneous feedback,” Dr. Hill told us. “If my goal is 8,000 steps a day, I can look at my pedometer and know—right away—how I’m doing that day. And that’s why it’s so powerful. If you can periodically check in to see how you’re doing, you’re much more likely to achieve your goal.”

Compared with a pedometer, other kinds of feedback don’t make the grade. “If you’re trying to walk 30 minutes a day, what do you do for feedback?” asked Dr. Hill. “Start a stopwatch every time you get up and walk around? That’s not going to work. Pedometers provide a simple and instant way to track progress.”

•Feel the satisfaction of success once you’ve reached the goal. With a pedometer, it doesn’t take very long to feel that satisfaction, said Dr. Richardson. “Say I ask one of my patients to increase her steps by 1,000 a day. She walks down the hall and back, and sees that she’s already put 100 steps on her pedometer. And she says to herself, ‘Wow, I just got 100 steps. I’m going to walk down that hall again.’”

That feel-good experience is quite different from what typically happens when a well-mean ing doctor tells you to “get more exercise,” said Dr. Richardson. “When you’re sedentary and a physician tells you to exercise more, you really don’t know where to start.”

You might work out too hard and feel lousy afterward. And you might feel like a failure, be cause you really don’t know if you exercised enough. But with a pedometer, you have a concrete goal. You know exactly what you need to do and whether you’ve done it or not. And when you do it, you feel good about yourself. And that’s why it works to wear one!

Buying and Using a Pedometer

There are many types of pedometers on the market. There’s the type you clip to your waistband or put in your pocket, with brands such as Omron and Timex. There are devices such as Fitbit and Apple Watch, which you can clip on or wear on your wrist, and which measure steps and many other health parameters, such as calories burned. And there are scores of pedometer apps for your smartphone, such as MyFitnessPal, Google Fit, and Pedometer for Android, and Pacer Pedometer and Step Tracker, Stepz, and Accupedo for the iPhone. Choose the device you like— and get started! (One caution: Don’t spend less than $10.00 on a clip-on pedometer; cheaper products are usually inaccurate.)

Our pedometer experts recommended this strategy for starting to use your pedometer.

  1. Wear the pedometer for three days. At bedtime write down the number of steps you took that day. On the third day, calculate the average: the total number of steps divided by the number of days. (For example, 12,000 steps over three days equals an average of 4,000 steps a day.) That’s your baseline.
  2. The following week, increase your daily baseline by 2,000 steps. If your baseline was 4,000, for example, try to walk 6,000 steps every day. Two thousand steps is equal to about one mile, or 15 to 20 minutes of walking—an increase just about anybody can do per week, said Dr. Hill.
  3. If you want to keep going, add another 2,000 steps to your daily baseline the next week, and add it again the week after that.
  4. Set your goal. How many daily steps should you aim for? Ten thousand—about five miles of daily walking—is a common recommendation. But I think your daily goal should be the number of steps you enjoy walking. That might be 6,000, 8,000, or 10,000 (or more!).

Dr. Hill shares my opinion: “I believe people should achieve what they can as individuals, getting in as many steps as possible, given their health and lifestyle.”

Don’t worry about whether your “intensity” is low, moderate, or high. Exercise recommenda tions always talk about “low-intensity,” “moderate-intensity,” and “high-intensity” exercise—with standard recommendations calling for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week. Brisk walking is moderate intensity. But you don’t have to think twice about your in tensity level when you walk.

In a study in the journal Preventive Medicine, researchers in Ireland secretly measured the walking speeds of recreational walkers in a park and found they were all walking at moderate intensity, or 55 percent to 69 percent of maximum heart rate.

For more tips to start exercising and begin living a more healthy life, purchase Real Cause, Real Cure from

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