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Pedometers are a cheap, easy, popular, and apparently effective way to motivate people to take more exercise. Pooled results from eight randomised controlled trials and 18 observational studies suggest that people who use a pedometer take about 2000 more steps a day than they otherwise would, walking about one extra mile. In this systematic review, use of a pedometer was associated with a 27% increase in physical activity, a decrease in body mass index of 0.38 (P=0.03), and a 3.8 mm Hg reduction in systolic blood pressure (P<0.001). Pedometers worked best for people given a target number of steps—say 10000—to aim for each day.
Most of the participants in these studies were women under 60. Pedometers may not be associated with these kinds of health benefits in men or in older adults of either sex, say the researchers. The studies they reviewed were reasonably good quality, but still fairly small, brief, and heterogeneous. A programme of larger trials that include men and women, old and young, could help to disentangle the effects of pedometers from the effects of the exercise counselling, step diaries, and healthier eating that often come with them.