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How does a Pedometer Work?

Diana Bocco
By Diana Bocco
Updated May 16, 2024
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A pedometer is a small device used to count how many steps a person takes while walking. Experts recommend taking around 10,000 steps per day to improve physical fitness. Since most people cannot spend their entire day counting their steps, a pedometer acts as a sensible way to monitor and relay such information. Traditional pedometers include moving parts that indicate each time the wearer's hips move while taking a step, while newer digital models can track foot movement and include calculations for distance traveled.

Older Models

Basic pedometers consist of a mechanical sensor that counts steps by taking into consideration how much the body shakes. An internal ball or similar object moves up and down with the motion of the person wearing the pedometer, effectively sensing the vibrations of his or her feet hitting the pavement through hip movement. As the ball moves, it activates a switch that in turn clicks the counter forward. Simply shaking the pedometer gives the same result, even without walking, which shows how the device works.

Digital Versions

There are also digital devices that use more advanced programs to monitor and gauge a person's movement over time. A software application inside such a pedometer keeps track of the number of steps the wearer takes. Internal gyroscopes and similar hardware help track movement, and precision may vary based on manufacturer. More advanced models can also convert steps into miles or kilometers, based on the average stride length of a wearer, and calculate calories burned.

Proper Use

To be able to measure correctly, a pedometer should be worn straight and vertically, preferably attached to the wearer's belt. This helps the device identify hip movements correctly and keep accurate track of how many steps the wearer takes. It is unlikely that any pedometer on the market is 100% accurate, but more expensive digital models can be quite close to the mark. Wearing the pedometer correctly also improves its performance. Despite what some companies may advertise, most pedometers do not accurately measure steps over time when placed in a pocket, purse, or backpack.

Other Models

Some companies produce pedometers that are integrated with personal electronic devices such as mobile phones and digital music players. Many of these devices include clocks and timers, as well as additional information relayed through a Global Positioning System (GPS) to track location and overall distance traveled. These pedometers still require the user to attach the device to his or her body, and some may include additional items such as shoe sensors. This can ensure a more accurate reading, based on actual foot movement, though much like other models, overall accuracy can vary depending on each device.

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Discussion Comments

By anon996498 — On Sep 08, 2016

The toughest part of getting 10,000 steps is starting this as part of your daily routine. This will require a commitment promise to yourself.

Once you start, you will realize and ask yourself why you didn't do this before. Jim

By anon314005 — On Jan 15, 2013

A "pedometer" that uses input of stride length and gps data to calculate number of paces will give the same number for the walkers, bicycle riders, auto drivers or those sitting on public transportation making the same trip.

The "pedometer" that uses an accelerometer in a cell phone will tell you how much motion the phone had, not how many steps the person using it takes. GIGO still works.

By lschuit — On Nov 02, 2012

Okay, maybe I'm dumb, but I don't get it. If I wear it on one side of my body, isn't it only counting the steps I take with one foot? Do I need to double the number I see recorded? So do I want it to say 10,000 or only 5,000?

By anon270209 — On May 21, 2012

Can the pedometer work with rollerbladding or bicycling?

By anon138306 — On Dec 31, 2010

if you're not too much overweight, running cuts your time to a fraction and you burn a little more calories that way too. if you're real heavyset, then do some cardio at home like shadowboxing and lose a bit of weight to avoid injuries.

Whether running or walking, open your hips to widen your stride and roll your step from the ball of your foot to your toes. if you're trying to sprint to get those steps in and you feel yourself slowing down, open it up like I said but with a bit more force almost as if kicking your own butt. you'll start to "glide" or push off your feet. try jogging first for the heavier folk.

By anon123489 — On Nov 02, 2010

I live about half a mile from school and have to climb a hill as well. It takes me about 1800 steps one way, and if I add walking between classes etc then I manage about 5000 steps a day. The pedometer definitely helps keep me motivated. Once a week, I walk another half a mile into the town library from school and that gives me another 4000, so that i get close to the 10,000 mark at least once a week. I have not lost a lot of weight yet, but definitely feel fitter.

10,000 is a lot of steps.

By amypollick — On Jul 21, 2010

@Anon97735: When I had a pedometer, the way I set it was to walk ten steps at my normal pace. I walked down my hall and marked where I started and stopped, and then got the tape measure out and measured how far I walked. Divide the number by ten, and you have how long your stride is, and you set the pedometer to that number. My stride, if I remember correctly, is about 26 inches, or two feet, two inches. I am a 5'5 female. My legs are longish for my height and I tend to take long steps when I'm really walking, so my stride may be longer than yours.

The stride length should count really, only to see how *far* you walked in those 10,000 steps. I thought a pedometer had a motion gizmo in it to react to when your hips moved as you had it clipped to your belt.

A better goal might be to make sure you're getting at least 100 steps in per minute, if you're really doing a cardio walk. That's not really so difficult, if you've got a nice, brisk walk going.

I use my treadmill at home and when it's set about 2.7 mph, I can do about 110 steps per minute. That's about 90 minutes of walking a day, and that is tough to get in, no question.

Anyway, that's how I set my pedometer to match my stride. I hope this is of some help to you. Good luck with your wellness program!

By anon97735 — On Jul 20, 2010

I thought that I was an active person until I got my pedometer. I walk daily, but nowhere close to 10000 steps required in my wellness program. I thought it would be a good motivational tool.

In order to make up the steps after work I would have to walk 1.5- 2 hours a day, which is not realistic, especially in the winter. I wonder if the setting of the length of the step has something to do with the amount of steps it counts?

On Sunday my steps were more with the distance set at 2 feet 2 inches, I increased this to 2 feet 4 inches and even fewer steps?

By anon94770 — On Jul 10, 2010

I get my 10,000 steps by going for a 9-10 km walk, which takes me about an hour and a half at a brisk pace. I've changed my route around a bit to include a few hills and slopes. The weight loss isn't amazingly fast, but it works and I feel great!

By anon49920 — On Oct 23, 2009

its easy to get 10,000. i get 6,000 from my normal day to day task and i get the rest from jogging every evening, after work, for 30 minutes.

By eastwest — On Apr 19, 2008

10,000 steps is a lot. I have tried and tried to get up to 10,000 steps and I just can't seem to do it. What do other people end up totalling?

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