Step counting: A review of measurement considerations and health-related applications

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Step counting has long been used as a method of measuring distance. Starting in the mid-1900s, researchers became interested in using steps per day to quantify ambulatory physical activity. This line of research gained momentum after 1995, with the introduction of reasonably accurate spring-levered pedometers with digital displays. Since 2010, the use of accelerometer-based “activity trackers” by private citizens has skyrocketed. Steps have several advantages as a metric for assessing physical activity: they are intuitive, easy to measure, objective, and they represent a fundamental unit of human ambulatory activity. However, since they measure a human behavior, they have inherent biological variability; this means that measurements must be made over 3–7 days to attain valid and reliable estimates. There are many different kinds of step counters, designed to be worn on various sites on the body; all of these devices have strengths and limitations. In cross-sectional studies, strong associations between steps per day and health variables have been documented. Currently, at least eight prospective, longitudinal studies using accelerometers are being conducted that may help to establish dose–response relationships between steps/day and health outcomes. Longitudinal interventions using step counters have shown that they can help inactive individuals to increase by 2500 steps per day. Step counting is useful for surveillance, and studies have been conducted in a number of countries around the world. Future challenges include the need to establish testing protocols and accuracy standards, and to decide upon the best placement sites. These challenges should be addressed in order to achieve harmonization between studies, and to accurately quantify dose–response relationships.

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Sports Medicine





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