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Step counters help reduce sedentary (sitting) time

Qui S, Cai X, Ju C, et al. Step counter use and sedentary time in adults: A meta-analysis Medicine. 2015;94:e1412.

Review question

Do step counters help reduce sedentary time among adults?


Sedentary time (time spent sitting or lying down) increases risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Adults spend more than half the time they are awake sedentary, this includes even those who meet physical activity recommendations  of at least 150min/wk of moderate-to-vigorous activity.

Step counters such as pedometers and accelerometers have been promoted as a way to reduce sedentary time. However, their effectiveness is controversial – some studies report they make a big difference while others show little to no effect. Previous evidence shows that having a step goal (e.g. 10,000 steps per day) increases physical activity among step counter users but it is not known if this also reduces sedentary time.

How the review was done

This is a systematic review and meta-analysis of 15 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) published between 2008 and 2014. The studies included over 3200 participants, most of whom were overweight or obese, and physically inactive or sedentary. Half of the participants used step counters (pedometers or accelerometers) for at least 8 weeks (max was 48 weeks). Change in their sedentary time before and after the study was measured using questionnaires and/or step counters and compared to control groups who received the usual care, maintained their lifestyle, or took part in other programs not focused on physical activity or sedentary behaviour.

What the researchers found

Step counters helped to reduce sedentary time by a small but significant amount compared to the control group (-23min/day in sedentary time). People who set a step goal were even more likely to reduce their sedentary time. The authors also found that change in sedentary time was not related to age, body mass index (measurement of overweight/obesity), and amount of sedentary time or number of daily steps before using the step counters.


Step counters help to lower sedentary time by a small amount.  Setting step goals helps to lower sedentary time even more.  Future research is needed to measure the health benefits of reducing sedentary time.



Control group
A group that receives either no treatment or a standard treatment.
Advanced statistical methods contrasting and combining results from different studies.
Randomized controlled trials
Studies where people are assigned to one of the treatments purely by chance.
Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.
The body's network of blood vessels. It includes the arteries, veins, and capillaries that carry blood to and from the heart.

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