Pedometers

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Why I Use A Pedometer

I need all the help I can get when it comes to gadgets that might help me get and stay fit.  Although I'm educated in the field of foods and nutrition and I eat well (OK, maybe too much) I struggle with my weight because I simply don't move enough.  My work keeps me in front of a computer from 12 to 14 hours a day so I have to make a real effort to take breaks, take walks and get moving.  The one tool I use that gives me the most benefit and encouragement is my pedometer.

I'm a goal oriented person and I'm a "measure-aholic".  If 10,000 steps a day is my goal then I want to monitor that constantly to see how I'm doing.  A pedometer allows me to do that.  It's embarrassing to admit but I can't tell you how many times in the evening I get my husband to take a walk around the block with me because I need few hundred more steps.  I've even paced back in forth along the length of the house to get that meter to click over to 10,000.  If I didn't know I was almost at my goal (by watching my total) I'd not be motivated to go that extra mile (or extra feet) to get there.

About Fitness Pedometers

In the most simplistic sense a pedometer measures the steps you take.  In addition to this most basic function they can also help to measure the number of calories you burn in a day, miles walked and even how fast you move.  I'm going to leave the technical details of how pedometers work to the experts (see links to more information).  What is important is what a pedometer can do for you.

Why 10,000 Steps A Day?

The 10,000 steps a day campaign was started by Shape Up America.  This non-profit organization founded in 1996  (by former U.S. Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop) was created to raise awareness of obesity as a health issue and to provide responsible information on healthy weight management.

This fitness goal of 10,000 steps was created in response to the U.S. Surgeon General's report stating U.S. citizens are simply not active enough.  The obvious question became, so how much is active enough?  Early reports from the surgeon general said a 30 min "moderate intensity" walk, on top of your normal daily activities would improve your health.  That does appear to be the case but that 30 minutes a day did not prove to be sufficient to for weight management.  In fact the 30 minutes did not help in keeping a person from gaining weight, nor did it help a person who succeeded in weight loss to maintain their weight.

One thing I learned early on is that my typical daily activities don't get me even close to 10,000 steps a day; in fact my average is about 3000 - 4000 and sometimes as low as 2000.   Even a 30 minute brisk walk won't boost that number above 7000 or 8000.  On days I meet my fitness goal I have to take one or more walks that total about 3 miles.  Those steps made where I'm huffing and puffing up a steep street provide more fitness benefit than those I make shuffling from my desk to the coffee pot but all those steps get me to my 10,000 a day goal.

I use walking as my preferred activity because it is easy to do.   I did invest in a treadmill so if its too cold or too whatever out I can still clock in a couple miles on the machine.  Any activity that gets you up and moving will improve your health.  If you can get outdoors and get some fresh air, all the better.  10,000 steps is a beginning and you may want to increase that goal as you become more fit.

To Read More 10,000 Steps A Day:

Pedometer Styles And Typical Features

Mechanical vs Digital

Most pedometers you buy today are digital but there are a few mechanical versions available as well.  The digital products offer more features and those will be focus of this discussion.  I'm going to describe some specific brands with which I have personal experience.

Typical Features

  • Steps: Most digital pedometer track steps, miles and estimated calories burned.
  • Tracking: The more sophisticated pedometers come with software that tracks your daily activity.  Sometimes the software is loaded onto your computer and other times the data is uploaded and stored online.
  • Heart Rate Monitor: Some pedometers work with a heart rate monitor so in addition to tracking steps and calories you can even watch your progress as your heart rate gets lower as you become more fit.
  • Sleep Tracking: A feature that is becoming more popular is the ability for the pedometer to track your sleep efficiency.  It tracks how long it takes for you to get sleep, how many times you wake up and even how much you may thrash around.
  • Wireless or USB Port Upload: For pedometers with tracking you'll upload your data either via a USB cable, or via wireless connection.
  • Meal - Nutritional Tracking:  A less common feature is the ability to enter your daily food intake  so you can track your calories and nutritional intake each day.
  • Weight Tracking:  Most pedometers with software features allow you to track your weight goals.
Brand HR Monitor Wireless Software Accuracy* Reliability Bulk Meal Tracking
Fitbit No Yes Online 4 Good Slim Yes
Sportbrain ISTEP X1 No longer available No Online 4 Poor Moderate No
Omron HJ-720ITC No No Desktop 3 (see review) Good Bulky No
Oregon Scientific PE830 No No Desktop 4 Fair Moderate No

*Accuracy: Rating is 0 to 5 stars, based on reviews by pedometer.com

My Pedometer Reviews

Clearly these reviews only include a small number of pedometers on the market but they are a relevant selection.

My Pedometer Selection Criteria

You will probably have your own set of priorities when you purchase your pedometer.  Here are mine.

  • Size - Bulky pedometers are uncomfortable to wear and fall off easily.  For me, the smaller the better.
  • Heart Rate Monitor -  My first Sportbain was compatible with their heart rate monitor strap but that model has been discontinued.  A heart rate monitor really helps you to monitor your fitness progress. 
  • Reader Friendly -  I like to be able to review my steps, and miles as I go along.  I want the pedometer to be easy to use and not too complex to do a simple step review.
  • Software -  Keeping a journal of activities, steps and foods I eat are the basic tools I use to stay fit, healthy, and on track.  Ideally I want to do this "all in once place".  I'm almost always online so web software works fine for me.  I don't need desktop software.  Most important, I don't want to have to pay a "subscription".
  • Easy Uploading -  The wireless is the best but USB interface is fine too.

Pedometers

Fitbit

The Fitbit is my latest (and current) pedometer.  This is in many ways the best pedometer I've used but it does have a few downsides.  First, the price was $99.00 which I feel is reasonable for the level of technology features. 

Pros:

  • Super slim and sleek and stays clipped on most clothing very well.  The manufacturer does not supply a lanyard but one can be fashioned easily enough if you feel it is really needed.
  • The digital display shows me steps, miles and calories and a "flower" that grows during periods of activity.
  • The software is as close to being the perfect solution as I've ever used.   Keeping track of everything I eat is pretty fast and easy.  It is even fast to enter my own foods if they don't happen to be in the provided database.   I can log additional activities (like walks on my treadmill).
  • Uploading is wireless. I love this!  I always check my computer first thing in the morning with my cup of coffee.  I have the wireless port attached to my laptop so it automatically uploads as I read my email.
  • Sleep Tracking - This feature is a little gimmicky but i do use it.  You simple attach a "cuff" around your wrist at night and the Fitbit slides into a slot in the cuff.  You press "start" once you're read for sleep.  Then press "stop" when you wake up and are ready to get up.   The monitor tells you how long you took to fall asleep, how many times you woke up or thrashed around.  The software calculates and displays total hours slept with an efficiency score.
  • Accuracy - I set my stride to the fitbit and took some walks where I know the mileage and the accuracy is good.
  • Battery Life - The Fitbit gets recharged when you sit it on its dock (the wireless port).  Charging typically takes less than an hour.

Omron

I only used the Omron for a short period of time but long enough to learn the basics. 

Pros:

  • The digital display is easy to read and to browse through steps and miles.
  • The software is a desktop package and it is easy to use.  The software tracks the basics of steps and miles but not a lot more. There is no integration with food intake.  Some people may ONLY want desktop software because they may travel or have limited access to the Internet.
  • Battery Life - Battery life is great.  Even with daily use the batter will typically last over a year.

Cons:

  • Extremely bulky: This was a very uncomfortable pedometer to wear. It was so bulky it kept falling off but it does come with a lanyard so it won't get lost. 
  • Upload:  Upload requires a USB cable; less convenient than WIFI but not a huge problem.
  • Software - I really prefer to have food tracking integration with my pedometer so this unit lacks that feature.

Oregon Scientific

I liked this little pedometer but the display became "crazed" and hard to read.

Pros:

  • Not overly bulky compared to many.  Stayed clipped to clothing pretty easily and I never used an extra "leash" for it.
  • The digital display shows steps, miles as well as target steps for day and a clock. Easy to read, large display.
  • The software:  I found the software very distracting to use because of the black background.  Again it shows the basic data but no integration with food intake or weight management.
  • Uploading - requires the USB port. Again, not a big deal but does put wear and tear on the cable end of the pedometer.
  • Accuracy - I found the accuracy to be good, comparable to all the units I tried.
  • Battery Life - I've had this unit 2 years and I've never changed the battery yet

Cons:

  • Display Problems: Having the display become unreadable for no apparent reason was the biggest problem with this pedometer.
  • Software -  At the time I used this product the software was so difficult to view on the screen that I tended not to use it.  Other than that the pedometer was reliable.

Strider

Ok this is a big, bulky yet adequate pedometer.  If you just want the basics... steps. this is an OK

Pros and Cons

Adequately accurate.  Tracks the basics, pretty easy to read.  A big, square, kind of heavy unit so it is uncomfortable to wear.  No frills, no software.

Buy A Fitbit

fitbit pedometer

Buy Online: You can purchase the Fitbit at Amazon.com:  Fitbit One Wireless Activity Plus Sleep Tracker, Black

Don't Lose Your Pedometer!

Almost every pedometer tends to fall off from time to time depending on the style of the pedometer and where the pedometer is worn.  Even my Fitbit which is great with some slacks or shorts tends to fall other with others.

Some pedometers come with a "leash" or a leash can be purchased  separately.  A loop of nylon or fabric goes around the pedometer then the leash attaches firmly to your clothing with a plastic or metal clip.

More Resources

Pedometers.com - Reviews and good information about how various types of pedometers work.

NCBI - Article discusses the difference in accuracy between a pedometer vs and accelerometer.

author

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of GourmetSleuth.com she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.