Taking 10,000 steps a day (about 4 miles or so) is often touted as the ideal fitness goal. But even 7,000 steps can have health benefits, the American College of Sports Medicine says. Pedometers can help you to become motivated and to track your progress. We tested 16 and found that you don’t have to spend much to get an accurate model. And we tested a few that you can download to your smart phone for less than the cost of a Starbucks latte.
Our test included regular pedometers, GPS watches, and cell phone apps that claim to measure steps and distance through your phone’s movement. The recommended models range in price from $3 to $300.
Conventional pedometers count steps by detecting movement. Some also calculate calories and distance based on your weight and a stride length that you program in at the beginning of the workout. GPS models are more expensive—$200 to $300—and measure distance outdoors using satellite information. (Garmin and Nike sell shoe pods to use when the satellite can’t be accessed because you’re indoors or somewhere heavily wooded, but we didn’t test them.) Because GPS watches track distance, not steps, they can also be used for biking and, in some cases, swimming, though we didn’t test those uses. The phone apps measure steps by sensing body motion. They may take more trial and error to use, but also cost the least; all were $4 or less.
To test the conventional pedometers and apps, staff volunteers clipped each device to their waistband or belt while walking on a treadmill at various speeds, climbing and descending stairs, and walking outside. (For the apps, the phone was clipped to a belt with a cell-phone holder or carried in a pocket.) We compared the pedometer step counts to the testers’ own counts. For GPS watches, volunteers ran 1 mile outside on level terrain and another 0.8 mile downhill. We measured accuracy against a professional distance-measuring wheel. Sensory panelists also evaluated each device on how easy it was to use.
If you run, walk, bike, or swim and want to precisely track your distance and speed, consider getting a GPS watch. But the average walker probably doesn’t need one. Note that the phone apps use a lot of battery power, and the GPS watches have to be recharged, similar to a cell phone.