If you are looking for a way to measure your activity level, track fitness goals and motivate yourself to stay active, pedometers are inexpensive and don't require much expertise. You simply hook these devices on your wrist or waistband (some allow placement in a pocket or bag) and start walking.
There are two primary kinds of pedometers: piezoelectric and traditional. The former uses an accelerometer that differentiates between activity intensity, such as walking to the fridge versus power walking. These pedometers are more accurate at calculating calories burned. Depending on the type of accelerometer, it may not need to be clipped on the hip to work properly; some are pocket pedometers.
Traditional pedometers use a spring-suspended lever arm that registers a step when the up-and-down motion of your gait triggers a contact. Research shows that these pedometers are accurate, but they must be worn vertically on the waist to function properly. Consumers who have a protruding belly may have problems with these pedometers since any forward tilt of the device can reduce its accuracy. In addition, traditional pedometers might not be ideal for those who walk very slowly (one mile in 24 or more minutes) since there might not be enough vertical movement to register a step. Traditional pedometers can't detect changes in exercise intensity; however, the batteries can last up to three years, which is far longer than pedometers with an accelerometer.
By far, the most popular, trusted brand is Omron. The brand is known for its budget-friendly, no-frills pedometers. In particular, the Omron GoSmart Pocket Pedometer HJ-112 (*Est. $30) fares well with both experts and consumers. The model measures steps, time and distance, and calculates calories and fat grams burned. Scott Crouter, Ph.D., an assistant professor of exercise and health sciences at the University of Massachusetts, recommends the HJ-112 for its accuracy regardless of position. It has dual-accelerometer sensors, and it doesn't need to be clipped to the waist to function accurately (except when jogging). Another research study, published in the April 2009 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, tests the accuracy of the Omron HJ-112 pedometer on nearly 100 walkers of different body sizes. Even at slow walking speeds, the Omron HJ-112 proves to be highly accurate in this test.
The model also receives stellar reviews from editors at About.com, Consumer Reports and NEA Today. It also receives an average of 4.5 stars from nearly 3,500 users at Amazon.com and is a top pick by users at Walmart.com and Drugstore.com. The main complaints are its bulky size and a clip that doesn't keep it secure enough. Because there's no protective cover, a few owners say the reset button can be activated unwittingly when walking.
If you want more progress-tracking capability, the Omron GoSmart Pocket Pedometer with PC Software HJ-720ITC (*Est. $35) includes Omron Health Management Software. It is nearly identical to the HJ-112, but stores 41 days of data in memory and has a USB connection for uploading this data to a Windows-based computer; only the last seven days, however, are available on the pedometer's display. Like it's sister model, the HJ-720ITC receives positive reviews from thousands of Amazon.com users.
If you want a device that straddles the line between pedometer and fitness gadget, then it is worth looking at the Fitbit (*Est. $100). This substantially more expensive pedometer has received excellent feedback from the editors at Whole Living magazine, PC Magazine and About.com. This model is a lot more complex than the Omron accelerometers. The Fitbit tracks steps, distance and calories burned. In addition, it measures sleep and can sync automatically with your computer. Editors at Whole Living praise the Fitbit for its sleek design, accurate tracking and ease of use. This pedometer also gets a strong rating from more than 620 Amazon.com users, most of whom are extremely satisfied with the product. However, there are some users who question the accuracy of its stair tracking.
Both the Omron HJ-112 and the Fitbit are pocket pedometers; they have multiple sensors built in and can be used in a pocket or thrown in a bag. In contrast, one-sensor pedometers are sometimes called hip pedometers. As the name suggests, these must be worn at the hip (on a clip) to track activity accurately. Moreover, they must be vertical. Some medical studies suggest that the accuracy of single-sensor pedometers decreases drastically if clothing or body shape (like a protruding belly) causes the pedometer to tilt forward.
While accelerometers are by far the most popular (and common) form of pedometer on the market today, traditional models are favored by many consumers and experts for their accuracy and ease of use. Spring-lever pedometers rely on a pronounced up-and-down motion to register a step, and they must be clipped to the waist and positioned without vertical tilt for the most accurate step detection.
If you're looking for an incredibly basic pedometer (one which only counts steps, reviewers suggest the Yamax Digi-Walker SW-200 (*Est. $20). With only a single button that resets its step count, users say this pedometer is very easy to operate. It measures 2 inches by 1.5 inches and weighs less than an ounce. The manufacturer's estimated battery life of three years is considerably longer than top-rated accelerometer pedometers.
In comparison testing, the Yamax SW-200 is used as the pedometer to which others are compared, and many university researchers consider it to be the gold standard of pedometers. Editors at Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter write that the SW-200 is "respected for its excellent reliability and accuracy." The Yamax brand isn't widely available online, but it's marketed under New-Lifestyles, Accusplit and other private-label brands.
One common complaint about traditional pedometers is that most are hard to monitor. Unless the pedometer has a reverse display or flips open, you'll have to remove the pedometer from your waist to check your step count. Several pedometers, however, come with wristwatch monitors that allow you to easily keep track of your step total, along with other data like mileage and heart rate. These pedometers are more expensive, but serious walkers and frequent exercisers may appreciate the convenience and additional functionality. See our report on sports watches for more.
The most detailed and vetted comparative review of pedometers comes courtesy of Consumer Reports. Other strong pedometer reviews were found in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine. This journal includes several studies that test the accuracy of individual pedometers. We also found several pedometer recommendations in more mainstream media, including pieces from the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, Redbook, Shape, Health, and the Los Angeles Times. By far the most prominent source of consumer-generated reviews is Amazon.com, where popular models have more than a thousand individual reviews. Many pedometer owners also post opinions at Walmart.com and Drugstore.com.