Counting Your Steps - How Pedometers Motivate Walkers

You'll Move More If You Track Yourself with a Pedometer or Fitness Band

Fitbit Surge - 10,000 Steps Congratulations
Fitbit Surge - 10,000 Steps Congratulations. Wendy Bumgardner ©

How many steps do you take per day? How many should you take? If you wear a pedometer or fitness band, will it really motivate you to walk more?

6000 Pedometer Steps for Health

Rob Sweetgall of Creative Walking, Inc. points to the Harvard Alumni Study that showed walking even 1 mile a day reduced death rates. The most benefit came at approximately 6000 steps per day. For most people, that is the equivalent of walking for an hour a day.

These can be accumulated steps throughout the day rather than one long walk. This study and more found big benefits in ending a sedentary lifestyle and becoming more active.

10,000 Steps for Weight Management

It is typical to log 3000 or more steps just with daily activity and not extra exercise or dedicated walks. To burn off extra calories for weight loss, walk 10,000 steps per day most days of the week. Add in walking sessions of at least 10 minutes at a brisk walking pace to achieve moderate intensity physical activity.

Pedometers Help Motivation

Pedometers used to get a bad rap because they are not accurate for measuring distances for most people, due to uneven strides. Stop thinking about logging distance and start thinking about logging steps. Wearing a pedometer all day, you can see how many steps you are really getting in, and aim towards a goal of 6000 or 10,000 steps a day.

A review of pedometer research studies in 2007 found that people who set a goal with a pedometer were more likely to increase their physical activity, lose weight and lower their blood pressure.

Suddenly you start finding ways to add in steps:

  • Parking farther from your destination
  • Taking the stairs rather than the elevator

The Evolution of Pedometers and Fitness Bands

Fueling the step counting movement are pedometers that display steps and count them accurately. Pedometers with accelerometer mechanisms led the way, and now accelerometer chips are used in mobile phones and fitness bands to count steps. Models also have a distance calculation, and many also calculate calories burned and have a time/date or stopwatch feature. For distance and calorie models, users must enter their stride length and weight. Tiny and comfortable, they are meant to be worn all day, every day, as motivation to keep moving.

The challenge with fitness bands and pedometers is remembering to wear them. Plus, you may not like the style of your tracker for all occasions - but they can be dressed up.

But many people are satisfied with using the chip built into their smartphones, with either the built-in health app or a pedometer app. The key to being motivated by these is that you need to remember to check them, or have them notify you at milestones or when you need to increase your steps to reach your daily goal.

Fitness Monitors Motivate More with Social Interactions

Fitness monitors that have a social networking component add a new layer of motivation for logging steps. Fitbit and other app-linked and computer-linked pedometers allow you to track friends' achievements who also wear the devices. A study by Danielle Arigo, Ph.D. of the University of Scranton found that the more social contacts made through the apps, the more steps and minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity were logged in her study.


Lee IM, Paffenbarger RS Jr. "Associations of light, moderate, and vigorous intensity physical activity with longevity. The Harvard Alumni Health Study." Am J Epidemiol. 2000 Feb 1;151(3):293-9.

Dena M. Bravata; Crystal Smith-Spangler; Vandana Sundaram; Allison L. Gienger; Nancy Lin; Robyn Lewis; Christopher D. Stave; Ingram Olkin; John R. Sirard. "Use of Pedometer Associated With Increased Physical Activity, Decreased Blood Pressure and Weight." JAMA. 2007;298(19):2296-2304.

Continue Reading