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Every step counts

Published:Wednesday | March 3, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Walking is the number one physical activity for most exercise enthusiasts. The number of steps completed each day is important in terms of impact on physical fitness. The pedometer is a useful device that will count the number of steps you take each day or over a specified distance. This device is usually portable and electronic or electromechanical and counts each step by the movement of your hips.

The distance of each person's step is different, and so it is calibrated by each individual to standardise his or her performance. Pedometers are becoming more popular as an everyday exercise measuring instrument and motivator. Pedometers range from sophisticated high-tech devices to the very simple.

In many instances, it is worn on your belt and from a location will record the number of steps you take over a period. The number of steps you take multiplied by the length of your steps can then be converted to kilometres or miles walked.

Take 10,000 steps

Pedometers have been very helpful in encouraging and motivating people to get fit and lose weight. Those who are able to perform a total of 10,000 steps per day or the equivalent of five miles or eight kilometres are considered to be working at the benchmark for an active lifestyle. Step counters are being integrated in an increasing number of portable consumer electronic devices such as music players and mobile phones.

Pedometers have been shown in clinical studies to increase physical activity and reduce blood pressure and body mass index. The use of a pedometer is associated with significant increases in physical activity, and substantial decreases in body mass index and blood pressure.

The major problem that you will encounter with the pedometer is its inability to record the intensity of your walking. However, we can ascribe some value to our performance by using 1,000 steps in 10 minutes as the standard for moderate exercise.

Shoe sensors

The accuracy of pedometers varies. However, they are reasonably accurate at a walking pace on a flat surface if the device is placed in its optimal position, usually vertically on the belt clip. Recent advances have made them more robust so that fairly accurate recordings can be made, even without ideal placements.

Accuracy also depends on the step length which the user indicates. Some pedometers use a shoe sensor that communicates with a wireless player receiver to transmit constant information about how much time you have been walking, the distance you have walked and the number of calories burned.

Dr Kenneth Gardner is an exercise physiologist at Holiday Hills Research Center; email: