Tracking Your Steps Might Help You Lose Weight

Jodi Helmer
by Jodi Helmer
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Tracking Your Steps Might Help You Lose Weight

The trick to getting more exercise could be as simple as tracking steps.

A new study published in the journal PLOS One found that those who wore pedometers were more active than those who walked without counting their steps.

Researchers followed 1,023 adults between the ages of 45–75 who were divided into two groups: A control group with no intervention and a group that received a pedometer and a journal to record their steps. The group with pedometers was asked to build up to walking an additional 3,000 steps per day most days of the week. At the end of the 12-week program, those who wore fitness trackers were taking more steps than those who didn’t track their steps.

“We think that the fitness tracker — pedometers in our case — helped people to see objectively exactly how much physical activity they were doing and to set themselves achievable targets for increasing their physical activity levels … and monitor that they were reaching them,” explains researcher Tess Harris, a professor of primary care research at St. George’s University of London.

The effect of wearing the pedometer lasted after the study ended. In fact, during a follow up four years later, the group that tracked their steps was still more active and leading healthier lifestyles than their non-tracking peers.   


Additional research supports the association between wearing a fitness tracker and increasing activity levels. A review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at 26 studies and reported that, overall, exercisers who wore fitness trackers like pedometers increased their activity levels almost 27%.


A 2016 study, published in Frontiers in Public Health, notes that fitness trackers, if used for long periods of time, can lead to increased step counts and weight loss.

“Fitness trackers have the potential to impact behavior change because they encourage goal setting, monitor activity levels and give useful feedback about progress toward goals,” notes researcher Margie E. Lachman, PhD, psychology professor at Brandeis University.

The simple act of wearing a fitness tracker and setting a daily step goal is, well, a step in the right direction. Users can monitor their progress toward meeting that goal and kick their daily activities up a notch to experience the satisfaction of hitting it.


“Another reason trackers may encourage increased activity is likely the accessibility one has to their own physical activity data,” adds Alycia Sullivan Bisson, a PhD candidate at Brandeis University and co-author of the Frontiers in Public Health study. “While those without a fitness tracker may not be able to easily quantify how active they are, people who own these devices are able to consistently monitor their activity levels on a weekly, daily or even hourly basis.”

Harris warns of a potential downside to wearing a fitness tracker: An obsession with step counts. Fretting over the number could make a walking workout feel like a chore. Instead of watching your step count inch higher, focus on having fun. Walk with friends or download a popular podcast and get caught up in the narrative while walking around the neighborhood.

While fitness trackers are excellent for counting steps, the high-tech tools don’t address issues that keep you from getting in a good workout in the first place such as lack of time or motivation.

“[W]ork to create a reasonable, feasible plan to address these factors, which can facilitate more regular exercise,” says Bisson. “Use [a fitness tracker] as a tool to monitor changes in physical activity, but don’t rely on it as a sole motivator to being active.”

About the Author

Jodi Helmer
Jodi Helmer

Jodi Helmer writes about health and wellness for publications like WebMD, AARP, Shape, Woman’s Day, Arthritis Today and Costco Connection among others. She often comes up with the best story ideas while hiking with her rescue dogs. You can read Jodi’s work or follow her on Twitter @helmerjodi.


4 responses to “Tracking Your Steps Might Help You Lose Weight”

  1. Xwerks says:

    I agree with the later part of the article. Walking is always a good idea, but its important for people to realize its not a replacement for exercising.

    • KP says:

      I disagree. I cannot do many forms of exercise as I am limited by numerous other factors…but if I do say 10k steps a day, at least half of that is usually a good 40-50 min walk – half of which is a decent gradient that gets me out of breath, I do this minimum 4 x pw. My tracker measures my heart-rate and gives me stats and it is sufficiently elevated for decent periods. Over the last 2 years I am most definitely gotten much fitter, my resting heart rate is much improved and my BP is now normal. I have altered my diet but not drastically, (I eat more fruit and veg now but implemented better portion control) and I am 3.5 stone lighter…I attribute 85% of this to the walking…but the key has been consistent walking.

  2. Pat Ferdinandi says:

    Yup…I walk my Rhodesian Ridgeback (like the dog in the photo) 6 miles a day. Need help getting steps in … have a furry best friend. The walk isn’t fast (he’s a sniffer) but it is 15k+ steps.

  3. KP says:

    When I bought my Gear Fit I was really struggling with a back problem and an ongoing lifelong weight battle. My physio said my back pain would be eased by light exercise but finding a balance might be tough. So I got a tracker. Quickly I discovered my average daily step count was an abysmal 3500 steps…and that is not uncommon with over 40’s office workers…you get in car, drive to work, park outside, sit at desk and have lunch at desk, drive home and end up watching tv most evenings…it’s easy to be very inactive. I built up slowly to 5000-7500 and soon learnt my back was worse if I did less than 5k but 7.5k was too much. 10k daily was the goal but it took a long time for me to be able to do that, but it didn’t matter…daily movement of more than double what I was doing (new average 6.5k daily) started moving the pounds albeit slowly. Then I visited a hospital and the nurse in charge there liked my band and admired it because it has such a large face (I am blind as a bat hence my choice)…she told me that she has seen miracles for many of her patients with these fitbands and thinks they should be available on prescription. She said she had patients with chronic pain who were on anti-depressants and cocktails of pain medication, thus overweight and stuck in vicious circles of additional symptoms, she has witnessed many of them break those circles, some coming off long-term medications completely…just getting out lifts your mood, regular exercise makes you feel better, end of…you sleep better, if you sleep better you cope with pain better…there is no downside to any of it. None of us need to run a marathan, but it is a shock when you realise just how little you actually do…2 years on and I am out whenever the weather allows and average 14000 steps a day…and I am 3.5 stone lighter with no back pain! If you haven’t got one of these fitbands, get one…any make, there are loads of brands quite cheap online that do the same as some of these fancy ones. Buy one as a present for loved ones. Unless you have a totally addictive personality you won’t regret getting one…

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