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Every Step Counts: Pedometers & Accelerometers Can Help

Published by , on Jul 7, 2014

PedometerParents are constantly searching for ways to get kids moving and to keep them active for a lifetime. The proven benefits of regular physical activity, combined with a growing interest in interactive technology, have sparked the development of physical activity monitors that can track an individual’s daily physical activity and caloric expenditure. Physical activity monitors give users immediate feedback on their daily progress with eye-catching graphics and motivational information. These devices can provide a fun way to involve everyone in the family by setting individual and family goals that can be easily tracked.

As the number of available devices increases, a basic understanding of their types, capabilities and common features is important to aid in determining the most suitable physical activity monitor to help children and families take the necessary steps to improve physical fitness. To help guide you through this process, Matt Browning, Exercise Physiologist from CHoR’s Healthy Lifestyles Center (HLC), and Dr. Ron Evans, the HLC’s Director of Clinical Exercise Physiology, provide an overview what to consider when selecting a monitoring device.

Pedometers vs. Accelerometers
Pedometers track physical activity by recording the number of steps taken by the wearer. Current physical activity recommendations suggest that children should accumulate approximately 12,000-15,000 steps each day and adults a minimum of 10,000 steps each day. Some pedometers are capable of providing general estimates of caloric expenditure and storing data for several weeks, while others provide only daily step counts. Both types of pedometers offer feedback without uploading to a computer and are considered very user friendly. Costs for pedometers generally start around $13.

Accelerometers track physical activity in multiple planes of movement (includes front to back and side to side body motions and more) and are capable of providing information on intensity (the amount of energy used by the body per minute during the activity). Accelerometers may be better suited to individuals who engage in multiple types of physical activity. A number of accelerometers offer limited immediate feedback on the device itself, but often these devices record and store data that can be uploaded to a computer or phone for a full evaluation of an individual’s daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly physical activity. Prices for accelerometers can range from $20 for a sensor that tracks daily activity to $100-150 for a version that tracks more data and wirelessly syncs to a computer or phone.

Choose monitors that fit your family’s lifestyle
Physical activity monitors are designed to be worn in several locations including at the waist, on the wrist, around the ankle, on a shoe, or in a front pocket. Determine the preferred location to wear the monitor prior to purchasing and make sure the monitor is designed for that location.

Some monitors are water resistant. Check out the specifications prior to purchasing to make sure that the monitor is appropriate for the activities that you and/or your child like to do.

Tips for using physical activity monitors
Once you have decided on which monitor will work best, have participating family members wear the monitor for a week to determine their average number of daily steps and use this number as a starting point for setting a daily step goal for the following week. A realistic goal for most individuals is to increase the average number of daily steps each week by 500 steps per day until reaching the desired 10,000-15,000 steps per day. (10,000 steps equals approximately 5 miles.)

Keep in mind that children and adults are encouraged to participate in about 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week and this exercise should be part of – not replaced by – daily step count goals.

Work together as a family to find creative ways for all family members to increase their daily step count. Websites such as walking.about.com encourage individuals to chart their walking minutes, miles or steps on a virtual walk across the United States on the American Discovery Trail. Simple changes like taking a family walk after dinner or before school, choosing to take the steps rather than an elevator, and parking the family car farther away from building entrances can add more steps each day.

Set family step count goals for some fun competition – and for that extra bit of motivation to take steps toward being more physical fit.

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