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Pedometers can sometimes miscalculate your steps -- especially the cheaper pedometers.
If you're already using a pedometer, you're probably doing it because you want to lose weight or get in better shape. By walking on a regular basis, you're already on your way toward your goals -- but if you want to get even more detailed, you may also want to translate the number of steps you're taking into a calorie count.
Data to Consider
You need to create a deficit of 3,500 calories in order to lose 1 pound -- but a lot of other factors come into play when it comes to calculating how many you're burning during any given activity. Your weight is one of them. Typically, heavier people burn more calories than lighter people. For example, a 185-pound person will burn 178 calories walking at a 3.5 mph pace for 30 minutes, while a 125-pound person will only burn 120 calories in that same amount of time. Intensity matters too; that 185-pound person will burn 222 calories by speeding up to a 4.5 mph pace. The 125-pound person will burn 150 calories in that same amount of time.
The Intensity Issue
Here's where you might see the first problem in calculating the number of calories by the number of steps you've taken: A simple pedometer is not going to calculate your speed -- and thus won't take intensity into consideration. With that in mind, if you're calculating the number of calories you've burned based on the steps you've taken, use it as an estimate and not absolute gospel. Estimating your stride length -- which is a marker of your intensity -- can help. To gauge your stride length, make a chalk line on the sidewalk. Place both heels against that line and then walk 10 steps using a stride similar to your exercise walking stride. On the 10th step, make another chalk line behind that heel. Then measure the distance between the two chalk lines in inches and divide it by 10; that's your average stride length in inches.
Using a Formula
After your pedometer has calculated the number of steps you've taken for the day, use an online calculator to determine how that number -- and those other factors -- translate into calories burned. The Geared to be Fit website has a pedometer calculator that factors in your weight, stride length and the number of steps you've taken. For example, if you weigh about 185 pounds, have an average stride length of 27 inches and you walked 10,000 steps in a day, the calculator estimates that you've burned about 370 calories.
According to Harvard Health Publications, you'll get the most from your pedometer if you adopt a few basic strategies. First, have a goal for the day. For a lot of people, a goal of 10,000 steps is reasonable -- though you may find you need to adjust your goals to fit your schedule and your overall fitness. When you're walking, aim to walk briskly, so that you're moving at a pace of at least 3 miles per hour. Get the best pedometer you can, since the cheaper models are more likely to give you inaccurate readings. Higher-end models may also double as GPS devices that help you calculate how far you've walked, and may even estimate your caloric burn for you.