Using a Pedometer App Boosts Walking

Man Checking Phone App

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How can you motivate smartphone users to get more exercise? Because smartphones already have accelerometers built-in, simple pedometer apps can tell you how much you are moving throughout the day. Could using a pedometer app motivate more people to achieve the amount of physical activity recommended to reduce health risks?

Research Finds Pedometer Apps Motivating

Researchers in Ireland recruited Android smartphone users and loaded a pedometer app onto their phones. The users couldn't access the app themselves for the first week as a baseline number of steps was measured for each participant. The average steps per day were 4,365 for the control group and 5,138 for the intervention group. This shows that the subjects were fairly inactive.

Both groups received instruction on the benefits of physical activity and getting 30 minutes of activity each day more than they were currently doing. The intervention group was then given access to the Accupedo-Pro pedometer app and given a goal of 10,000 steps per day.

Both groups increased their physical activity in the first week, but only the intervention group using the pedometer app maintained their increase. After eight weeks the intervention group was still walking 22 percent more steps than their baseline number. This was over 1,000 more steps (about half a mile), which is about eight minutes of walking at a brisk pace. However, they didn't have a significant improvement in blood pressure or weight. This is not surprising, as it is less than the 60 minutes per day of moderate-intensity physical activity recommended for weight loss.

The researchers concluded that using a pedometer app was effective in motivating people to get more physical activity each day. This study compares well with similar studies giving inactive subjects a pedometer to wear and a step goal.

Pluses of Pedometer Apps

Most People Already Carry Their Smartphone All Day: An IDC Research report in 2013 found that 79 percent of Android and iPhone smartphone users keep their phones on or near them for all but two hours of the waking day. Pedometer and fitness band wearers likely have a similar wear time. Using a app rather than a separate device might be an easy way to motivate people to move more.

Works Indoors and on the Treadmill as Well as Outdoors: While apps such as MapMyWalk use the phone's GPS and give speed as well as distance, they won't work well indoors or when you are on a treadmill. A pedometer app, like a stand-alone pedometer, senses movement as steps and records them. The app doesn't rely on satellites or changing your location as an indication of movement.

Easy and Cheap or Free: If you already have a smartphone, it is counting your steps and you can check the Apple Health app or the Google Fit app to see some of your step data. You can add a pedometer app that can give you more information and allow you to set goals and see achievements. For example, the Fitbit app has a MobileTrack option that allows it to use the steps recorded by your phone rather than a Fitbit device. You don't need to buy a pedometer or fitness band to get the benefits of tracking your activity, reviewing past days' results, sharing your progress on social media, or competing with your friends.

Apps Have Advanced Features for Activity Tracking: A simple pedometer counts steps and may have a calorie estimate and 7-day memory. In order to get more statistics with a stand-alone pedometer, you need to upgrade to an app-linked or computer-linked pedometer or fitness wristband such as one of the Fitbit family.

Drawbacks of Pedometer Apps

Accuracy: A pedometer app is only as accurate as you are consistent in carrying your smartphone with you continuously throughout the day. Some apps are better than others at editing out random movement and not counting it as "junk steps." Positioning is also important for accurate steps counts, and it may not be convenient to carry a phone on a waistband clip or armband rather than loose in a pocket.

Power Drain: Some apps are notorious for draining power rapidly when running continuously in the background. In fact, six participants in the study dropped out because of excessive battery drainage. As one user of the Accupedo-Pro app noted, you can't get an accurate step count if you have to keep your phone plugged in throughout the day.

Accupedo Pedometer App

The Accupedo pedometer app was chosen by the researchers because it had the features they wanted for the trial. It has automatic feedback and tracking of step count and calories burned. It has graphs and charts of daily and hourly step count history. It has goal-setting functionality and gives feedback on goal achievement.

The chief difference between the free and the Pro version appears to be that the Pro is ad-free. It doesn't drain your phone battery noticeably. It has a good display and history details. The screen icon shows the step total so you don't even have to open up the app to see your progress. Accupedo is available for both iOS and Android.

A Word From Verywell

If you carry your phone with you most of the time, checking your step count in Apple Health or Google Fit is a good way to track your activity. Dedicated pedometer apps may motivate you to walk more with features such as setting and achieving goals. Give it a try and see how far you can go.

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