Counting your steps with a pedometer can motivate you to keep walking. Here's what to look for in a pedometer and how to set your walking goals.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Walking is a great way to get and stay fit. But are you doing enough to see results? Using activity-tracking devices and apps, or even an old school pedometer, can help you set and reach your fitness goals. See how these tools can get you off on the right foot.

Activity trackers, also known as activity monitors, are the modern equivalent of pedometers. But they do more than count steps. They also calculate calories burned. And many measure sleep quality, compute calorie intake, and serve as alarm clocks or watches. Some display your progress in real time; all can show it later on a smartphone, tablet or computer. Most activity trackers are made to be worn on your wrist, like a watch or bracelet, and can be worn round-the-clock. They are not totally accurate, but overall they provide more activity information than a pedometer does.

Prefer to keep things simple? Then a pedometer might be a good choice for you. A pedometer counts steps for any activity that involves step-like movement, including walking, running, stair climbing, cross-country skiing and even movement as you go about your daily chores.

To use a pedometer, you usually just clip it onto the waistband of your pants, tuck it inside your pocket or even slip it into a purse held close to your body — and then get moving.

How do you know which kind of tracker to get? Review these features to see what device may best suit your needs and interests.

  • Ease of use. Although some pedometers have more features and require more setup than do others, most are quite simple to use. Just clip it on and go, resetting the steps to zero each day when you start over.
  • Extras. How much information do you want to collect will influence your choice of device. Some pedometers and most activity trackers calculate time spent in an activity, distance walked and even the number of calories your burn up while being active. Still others allow you to upload your data to computers so that you can electronically track your progress.
  • Accuracy. Most pedometers are generally accurate and reliable at counting basic steps. If you want a higher level of precision, however, you probably want an activity tracker.
  • Display. Look for a device with a display that you can read in different types of lighting, especially if you'll be using it both indoors and outdoors.
  • Price. The cost of a pedometer typically depends on how many features it offers. Pedometer price generally ranges from $10 to $50. Activity trackers typically cost two to three times that amount.

Less than half of U.S. adults get the recommended amount of physical activity. Adults need at least 150 minutes a week of aerobic physical activity. This should be at a moderate level, such as a fast-paced walk for no less than 10 minutes at a time. If you're not at that level yet, keep it in mind as you think about your long-term goals.

Activity trackers and pedometers provide immediate feedback about your activity level. Thus, they can serve as a strong motivator to keep you moving. And they can help you track your progress over time.

Use these tips to integrate these tools into your activity routine:

  • Establish a baseline. When you first get your tracker, wear it throughout the day for three straight days as you go about your routine activities at home or work. Add up the total number of steps for each of the three days and then divide that total by three. This gives you a baseline number of steps, or average, that can serve as a launching point for the step goals you set.
  • Set short-term step goals. Once you know how many steps you generally take on an average day, you can set some short-term activity goals. For instance, say you normally take about 2,000 steps a day while going about your normal routine. Set a short-term goal of adding on another 500 to 1,000 steps a day for a week by incorporating a planned walking program into your schedule. You can either do it all at once or break your walking into 10-minute chunks of time to accommodate your schedule. When you meet a short-term goal, add a new one.
  • Set long-term step goals. Think about your overall fitness and activity goals. Your short-term goals are the building blocks to these long-term goals. A long-term goal may be walking 10,000 steps a day, or about 5 miles (8 kilometers), several times a week as part of your new daily routine. You may also want to set a goal of walking faster as your fitness level improves.
  • Track your progress. To see how you're doing, monitor your progress over time. Your tracker may or may not have a memory function to track your steps on a weekly or monthly basis. You can choose to use that feature or record your steps in a log of your own making. Or upload the information digitally to your computer or mobile device. Tracking your progress can help you see whether you're meeting your goals and when it may be time to set fresh goals.

If you have any health issues, have been inactive or are very overweight, be sure to talk to your doctor before starting a new fitness program. Your doctor can help you set realistic goals based on your fitness level and any health issues you may have.

Whatever your fitness goals, take them one step at a time. And enjoy the feeling of knowing that you're on the path to better health and fitness.

Feb. 21, 2014