If you're trying to add more movement into your daily routine, you might think about using a step counter, pedometer or activity tracker. Keeping tabs on your step count can give you an idea of how much ground you've covered, which can make it easier to reach your health or fitness goals.
The biggest problem? It feels like there are way too many trackers out there to choose from, all offering different features. Here's a look at the various options and how to figure out what might work best for you, along with some of the top-rated product picks. Plus, some tips for determining what your daily step count should be and how to get the most from your tracker (no matter which one you choose).
The Benefits of Tracking Your Steps
It's no secret that walking is really, really good for you. It counts as a form of moderate exercise, and doing it regularly can help lower your risk for health problems like heart disease, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as depression.
If you're walking to improve your health or fitness or to lose weight, you might have a specific distance or step count that you aim to reach each day. That's where step tracking comes in. "Tracking your steps on some kind of device can be extremely helpful in clueing you in to how much you're moving your body," says fitness expert Ginny Erwin.
Plus, it can be a great way to push yourself and stay motivated. "The more you move, the more calories you burn. You can compete with yourself by setting a goal and not stopping 'til you reach it, or you can go up against friends," says fitness expert Ali Greenman.
Read more: 20 Reasons to Go for a Walk Right Now
How Many Steps Should I Take Each Day?
You've likely heard the recommendation to walk 10,000 steps a day — which equals roughly five miles — for optimal health. But is that really the right number for everyone?
It depends on your goals. If you're just trying to improve your health, you might benefit from walking around 7,500 steps per day. That's the amount tied to lower mortality risk, according to a May 2019 study published in JAMA. When it came to reducing the chances of dying from any cause, walking more than 7,500 didn't seem to offer any extra benefit.
If you're also trying to lose weight, you'll want to up your step count by quite a bit. In a May 2017 study of Scottish postal workers published in the International Journal of Obesity, those who walked more than 15,000 steps per day were the ones who had zero symptoms of metabolic syndrome — including obesity. "The more steps you take, the greater your total energy expenditure," Greenman says.
Still, the average American only walks around 3,000 to 4,000 steps a day. So whether you're trying to cover 7,500 steps or get all the way to 15,000, reaching your goal might feel a little daunting. But remember: You can build up your endurance by tacking on 1,000 steps a day until you reach your new number, Mayo Clinic experts suggest.
And you don't have to go for a super long walk to get in all of your steps at once. "Little things add up," Greenman says. "Park in the back of the parking lot, take the long way to the items you're shopping for, take the stairs, pace around the office while you're on a call or walk the dog instead of letting him out in the yard." By the end of the day, all of those short walks could equal a lot more steps than you think.
Read more: 35 Creative Ways to Reach 10,000 Steps a Day
The Best Step-Tracking Options
There are a few different types of devices that you can use to keep tabs on your step count. One isn't necessarily better than the other — instead, it's all about figuring out what you want in a tracker and finding one that delivers on your needs. Here's a look at the options.
Basic Step Counters and Pedometers
Looking for an inexpensive option without a lot of bells and whistles? Most of these devices just count your steps, while some offer a few extra features.
- Omron Tri-Axis Alvita Pedometer: The palm-sized device tracks steps, distance, and calories burned. It automatically resets at midnight for an accurate daily count, and stores 7 days of activity data. (Available on Amazon.com for $14.86.)
- OZO Fitness SC2 Digital Pedometer: In addition to tracking your steps, distance and calories, the SC2 also keeps tabs on your speed. Amazon reviewers also love the large, easy-to-read display. (Available on Amazon.com for $19.99.)
- RealAlt 3D TriSport Walking 3D Pedometer: The best feature here? The fact that you can store 30 days worth of step data, making it easy to see how your activity has changes over time. (Available on Amazon.com for $19.99.)
Good news, iPhone and Android users: Your device already comes with a built-in activity tracker. Use the Apple Health app (on iPhone) or Google Fit app (on Android) to track your daily steps and mileage and keep track of your activity trends over time. The only catch? To get a truly accurate reading of your movement throughout the day, you'll need to keep your phone with you at all times.
Want to use your phone to track your steps but need an app with more features? There are plenty to choose from — most of them absolutely free!
- Argus Calorie Counter and Step: Track your steps and sleep, measure your heart rate, count calories on meals and packaged foods and get workout and meal plans on this all-in-one wellness app for iPhone. Need some help staying motivated? You can also share your progress with friends to hold you accountable.
- Stepz: This basic pedometer app for iPhone tracks your steps without GPS, so it won't drain your phone's battery.
- Leap Fitness Step Counter: Set your desired daily step count and use the Android pedometer app to tell you how close you are to reaching your goal, plus how many calories you've burned along the way.
Wearable Fitness Trackers
If you're looking for a device that does more than just track your steps, there are plenty to choose from. These fitness trackers measure all the things — heart rate, sleep, workouts, menstrual cycle and more — giving you more info to help you reach your health and fitness goals.
- FitBit Charge 3 Fitness Activity Tracker: Measure your activity, heart rate and sleep with this sleek watch that syncs to an app on your phone. The battery can go up to seven days without being charged, and you can even wear it to track your movement while you're swimming. (Available on Amazon.com for $139.99.)
- Bellabeat Leaf Urban Smart Jewelry: The pendant-like tracker can be worn as a bracelet or a necklace, and the battery never needs to be charged. Track your steps, calories burned, sleep and menstrual cycle, and check your progress through the app on your iPhone or Android. (Available on Amazon.com for $103.41.)
- Garmin Forerunner 235: This running watch tracks your steps and distance covered, along with your VO2 max (a measure of your fitness level). Other nifty features: The watch will vibrate to alert you when you've been sitting for too long, and you can sync it with your phone to get notifications for emails, calls and texts. (Available on Amazon.com for $229.95.)
Tips for Getting the Most from Your Step Tracker
Whether you buy a basic pedometer or splurge on a top-of-the-line fitness tracker, you'll want to make the most of it. Here, some insider tips that'll help you do just that.
Wear it well. While it's fine to keep a smartphone in your pocket, you should wear your fitness tracker on your non-dominant hand. As for your clip-on pedometer, position it on either hip directly over your foot. Try to attach it to the same spot every day, and make sure the pedometer is perpendicular to the ground.
Use it daily. Using a tracker every day will give you a sense of your overall activity patterns and help you reach your goals. For instance, if and you fell short on your step count one day, you can try to make it up by adding in some extra steps during other days of the week.
Take the numbers as estimates. No activity tracker is 100-percent accurate, according to May 2017 research published in the Journal of Personalized Medicine. Instead, use your step counter to give you a general idea of how much ground you've covered.
Resist the urge to go above and beyond. Your step counter can be a good motivator to move more. But don't push yourself to the point where you're walking — and checking your tracker — all day long, says Greenman.
Don't judge yourself over your number. Your fitness tracker isn't a measure of whether you were "good" or "bad" during the day — it's simply telling you how much activity you got. "The device is not judging you or criticizing you for not moving," Erwin says.