Expert Q&A

How exactly does my pedometer work, and is it really accurate?

How exactly does my pedometer work, and is it really accurate?

BY: Jennifer Viegas

Pedometers measure how much walking you do, based on the number of steps you take. They work by measuring the up-and-down movement of your hips as you walk. The quality and price of pedometers varies widely, as does their accuracy, according to Stacy Clemes, Ph.D., lecturer in ergonomics at Loughborough University in England, who recently conducted a study on the devices.

To find out how your pedometer rates, Clemes recommends the 50-step test. "For this test, you simply wear the pedometer, ensure that it is showing zero steps and then walk 50 paces at your usual walking speed," she instructs. "The pedometer should ideally be accurate to within 3 percent of actual steps taken." In other words, after taking 50 steps, your pedometer should read no less than 48 steps and no more than 52.

For the most accurate readings, Clemes recommends wearing your pedometer on your waistband or belt, "in line with the midline of the thigh." It also helps to walk at a brisk pace, generally above 2.5 to 3 mph, since pedometers are less accurate at slower speeds.

Jennifer Viegas, contributing writer to Live Right Live Well, has covered health, food and fitness for ABC News, Discovery online, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. and Knight Ridder newspapers. The author of more than 20 books, she is also a James Beard Award nominee.

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