Learn How Daily Step Counters Work

Also known as a pedometer, a step counter is a device that counts the number of steps a person takes. These days, it’s all the rage and is typically provided in fitness devices and smartwatches that monitor other bodily functions. But do you know how they work?

Learn How Daily Step Counters Work

Learn How Daily Step Counters Work

With the popularity of “wearables”, many people are relying on pedometers to help them achieve their fitness and health goals. Even companies encourage their employees to count and record their stepsto reduce downtime in the workplace. This growing dependency raises the question, “How do step counters work?”

Learn how basic pedometers work and what makes current handheld pedometers worth using.

Step counters work with accelerometers

The first step counters of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries used a pendulum-like mechanism to record steps. The pendulum had a ball attached to its end, and as people walked, it swung. Afterward, each oscillation marked a step.

However, current pedometers have accelerometers, a type of sensor that tracks movement through speed and changes in direction. For example, it is through accelerometers that a smartphone knows when to rotate.

Most modern step counter accelerometers measure movement along the X, Y and Z axes, so theytrack three-dimensional movement and are more accurate.


Some pedometers also have gyroscopes, a type of motion sensor that monitors orientation and angular motion. In the simplest terms, gyroscopes monitor your body’s movement relative to the part of your body you place the tracker on. So they notice that you simply raised your handand don’t count it as a step.

Gyroscopes also monitor rotational movements such as twists and turns. Accelerometers cannot do this effectively because they are limited to tracking motion in planes.

Can you trust step counters?

The technology of step counters has evolved a lot, in such a way that it is difficult to find devices that only monitor steps. “Wearable” devices and smartwatches have multiple sensors that not only count steps,but also measure heart rate, activity, blood pressure, and more.

A 2020 study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, looked at 18 healthy adults who used various step-tracking technologies like smartphones and wrist and ankle fitness devices.

The study concluded that counters worn on the ankle and on smartphones were more accurate than those worn on the wrist. This is primarily due to the fact that handheld devices worn on the wristsometimes register hand movements as steps.

The study also demonstrated that pedometers count steps more accurately during continuous or brisk walking than slower-paced and intermittent walking. However, the study recorded an average percentage error of less than 3% for some of the devices used.

Use a means of step control that works for you

Current step counters generally have a low margin of error and accuracy depends on device type and manufacturer. Don’t worry too much about your pedometer’s exact numbers or its accuracy.

The number of steps you should take is just a general guideline. Only use the most convenient option, one that you can stick with and progress with.

However, if you prefer to use wrist devices,remember to use them on your non-dominant hand. This will increase the chances of a more accurate reading since you don’t use that hand much.

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