Comparison of pedometer and accelerometer accuracy under controlled conditions

Guy C Le Masurier, Catrine Tudor-Locke
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 2003, 35 (5): 867-71

PURPOSE: The purpose of this investigation was to compare the concurrent accuracy of the CSA accelerometer and the Yamax pedometer under two conditions: 1) on a treadmill at five different speeds and 2) riding in a motorized vehicle on paved roads.

METHODS: In study 1, motion sensor performance was evaluated against actual steps taken during 5-min bouts at five different treadmill walking speeds (54, 67, 80, 94, and 107 m.min-1). In study 2, performance was evaluated during a roundtrip (drive 1 and drive 2) motor vehicle travel on paved roads (total distance traveled was 32.6 km or 20.4 miles). Any steps detected during motor vehicle travel were considered error.

RESULTS: In study 1, the Yamax pedometer detected significantly (P < 0.05) fewer steps than actually taken at the slowest treadmill speed (54 m.min-1). Further, the pedometer detected fewer steps than the accelerometer at this speed (75.4% vs 98.9%, P < 0.05). There were no differences between instruments compared with actual steps taken at all other walking speeds. In study 2, the CSA detected approximately 17-fold more erroneous steps than the pedometer (approximately 250 vs 15 steps for the total distance traveled, P < 0.05).

CONCLUSIONS: The magnitude of the error (for either instrument) is not likely an important threat to the assessment of free-living ambulatory populations but may be a problem for pedometers when monitoring frail older adults with slow gaits. On the other hand, CSA accelerometers erroneously detect more nonsteps than the Yamax pedometer under typical motor vehicle traveling conditions. This threat to validity is likely only problematic when using the accelerometer to assess physical activity in sedentary individuals who travel extensively by motor vehicle.

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