Pedometer: how good a measure of exercise is it?

What is a pedometer?

The pedometer is an instrument for estimating the distance traveled on foot by recording the number of steps taken. In fact, pedometers can  give you not only your step count, but also the distance walked in kilometers and  the calories burned by walking

Pedometers are being used as a self tracking and motivation tool for getting active and a target of ten thousand steps in a day is in vogue!

Is step count a good measure of physical activity?

Does a pedometer step count of 10,000 steps per day mean you are getting enough exercise?

If you are doing a few thousand steps per day, you are already on your way to physical fitness! Here is a table from ACSM’s brochure on pedometers, which correlates pedometer step count with your level of physical activity:

Number of steps Activity level
0-5,000 Sedentary
5,000-7,499 Low active
7,500-9,999 Somewhat active
10,000-12,499 Active
12,500 or more Highly active
: Reprinted with permission of the American College of Sports Medicine. Copyright © 2011 American College of Sports Medicine

However, there are some limitations of the pedometer count that you should be aware of:

  • Pedometers can give inaccurate counts if they are not worn properly, or if you walk too slowly or too fast. Inaccuracy can also be due to inadequate technology. Make sure to buy a pedometer that has 3D accelerometer technology.
  • The most accurate information that a pedometer can give is the step count, other information such as ‘distance walked’, and  ‘calories burnt’ could be inaccurate  (nearly all pedometers tested have a 10% inaccuracy at least)
  • Most pedometers can not tell you the intensity of your effort. In other words pedometer does not tell whether your walk/jog reached moderate or vigorous intensity level or not. Knowing this is important because adults should do at least 150 minutes/week of moderate level or 75 minutes/week of vigorous exercise/week for realizing health benefits of exercise

Therefore, you may need to combine pedometer counts with heart rate based assessment of intensity (MHR method) to make sure you are exercising at the right pace

Also, you need 2-3 days of adequate resistance and flexibility exercises in addition to aerobic exercise which pedometer tracks. Check out the resistance exercise schedule for adults here

In conclusion: pedometer is a good motivational and tracking tool for walking, and 10,000 steps are a good indicator that you are fairly active, but to reap all benefits of exercise find out Is your workout routine complete?

CHECK OUT: Our references for exercise recommendations