Clipping on a pedometer and counting steps -- even brisk ones -- isn't the end of the fitness story. "It's one thing to wear a pedometer, but it's another to have a goal in mind of how many steps you want to get," says Karen Croteau, a professor in the department of exercise, health and sport sciences at the University of Southern Maine. "These gadgets are effective when serving as a cue, but that has to be in conjunction with setting goals."
She suggests that new users monitor steps for a few days to find a daily average before upping the amount. Some fitness experts recommend adding 5% to 10% of the starting average per day, but Tudor-Locke believes that fitness levels and daily routines should be taken into consideration. "One person has to juggle child rearing while another has different lifestyle impediments," she says. "People should find out where they are and realize that more is better."
And while walking 10,000 steps a day is admirable, reaching that goal every day over a long period of time may cause a fitness plateau, in which cardio gains stop and weight sneaks back on. In that case, users must increase both steps and intensity.
(But keep in mind, walking shouldn't be the only exercise in the repertoire. Strength training for both the upper and lower body prevents muscle loss and helps stave off bone deterioration, both important as people age.)
Choosing a pedometer can be challenging, considering how many models are on the market. Some are equipped with accelerometers that record movement and intensity. Others tally weekly steps, have calorie counters and come with software to track progress. Some cellphones now come with a pedometer, but since the devices track steps by monitoring hip movement, they won't work if left on a table or in a purse on the floor.
Many exercise physiologists and trainers generally recommend starting with a basic model that just counts steps and costs about $20. To ensure accuracy, count out from 20 to 50 steps a few times, checking the pedometer. If the count is within a few steps, it should be adequate. You can always upgrade later to a model with more bells and whistles.
Says Marshall, "You're only limited by how creative you can be."