Pedometers motivate people to exercise, reports the Harvard Health Letter

Walking is one of the easiest ways to get exercise. If you're in a nonwalking rut, wearing a pedometer might be one of the least expensive and most effective ways to climb out of it, reports the September 2009 issue of the Harvard Health Letter.

A pedometer is a good motivational tool, although maybe not all by itself. Several randomized trials show that what's more effective is the combination of wearing a pedometer and having a goal. A common goal is 10,000 steps a day, which is equivalent to about five miles, depending on the length of your stride.

What can wearing a pedometer do for you? A summary of 26 different studies showed that pedometer users walked at least 2,000 more steps each day than nonusers, and using a pedometer helped them increase their overall physical activity levels by 27%. Other research has shown that the exercise advice a doctor gives to his or her patients might be more effective if a pedometer were part of the prescription, and that pedometers can be part of a successful program to encourage low-income mothers to exercise. Exactly how and why pedometers are good motivators are grist for future studies.
The Harvard Health Letter notes some things to keep in mind when using or buying a pedometer:

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