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Accuracy and ease of use matter most with pedometers

If you're looking for a way to measure your activity level, track fitness goals or motivate yourself to stay active, pedometers are a great choice. They're inexpensive and don't require much expertise. Simply hook one onto your waistband or slip it on your wrist and start walking.

There are two primary kinds of pedometers: piezoelectric and traditional. The former uses an accelerometer that can differentiate between activity intensity, such as walking to the fridge versus power walking. These pedometers are also more accurate at calculating calories burned. Depending on the type of accelerometer, it may not need to be worn at the hip to work properly; some can operate from inside a pocket or even a bag.

Many accelerometer-powered pedometers are beginning to incorporate more fitness features such as calorie counters, sleep-pattern monitors and other personal metrics. They may also include a watch or timer. Many tech-savvy models boast an online or mobile software option to which users' personal data and records can be downloaded, stored and analyzed. Advanced pedometers can help motivate users to set and achieve fitness and wellness goals.

Traditional pedometers use a spring-suspended lever arm that registers a step when the up-and-down motion of your gait triggers contact. Research shows that these pedometers are very accurate, but they must be worn vertically at the waist to function properly. Users with protruding midsections may have problems since any forward tilt of the device can affect its accuracy. In addition, spring-lever pedometers aren't ideal for those who walk very slowly -- 1 mile in 24 minutes or longer -- since there may not be enough vertical movement to register a step. Traditional pedometers also can't detect changes in exercise intensity. Batteries can last up to three years, which is far longer than with an accelerometer.

Regardless of the counting mechanism, all of the best pedometers should log steps, distance and occasionally calories. The principal factors we consider in selecting the best pedometers are accuracy and ease of use. They should also be durable and long-lasting.

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