by Colleen J. Sands

The number of steps per day you take is important – but how fast you take them matters, too. New research makes walking intensity easy to track.

The United States Federal Guidelines for Physical Activity advise reaching at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week. While minutes are a simple unit to track, the intensity of physical activity has previously been vaguely defined and difficult to track. One means of tracking physical activity intensity is using metabolic equivalents (METS), but this measure is difficult to communicate, and moreover, cannot be directly measured by the individuals. Given these limitations, the guidelines also offer the suggestion of using a perceived effort scale from 0-10, with 5 or 6 being moderate-intensity. However, this is highly subjective and may not be precisely linked with the physiological intensity of the activity. Therefore, many people are not aware whether they are meeting the guidelines recommendation of moderate intensity physical activity.

Current research from Dr. Catrine Tudor-Locke’s team in the Physical Activity and Health Lab at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is changing that. Dr. Tudor-Locke’s team is examining using cadence (the number of steps you take in a minute) as a variable for tracking physical activity intensity. Unlike METs or a scale from 0-10, cadence is easy to measure and scientifically supported. Phone apps and fitness watches that provide real-time cadence have emerged over the past few years and also show trends over time.

What’s the magic number?

Tudor-Locke’s current research demonstrates that for adults 21- 40 years old, walking at least 100 steps per minute is a reasonable rounded, evidence-based value for reaching moderate-intensity physical activity. To reach a vigorous intensity, aim for at least 130 steps per minute.

Walking is one of the most commonly reported means of physical activity, and is free and easily accessible for most people. Dr. Tudor-Locke’s team encourages walking as a straightforward means of meeting the national guidelines, and using cadence as a simple way to track your intensity.

About The Author

Colleen J. Sands is a Master’s student in the University of Massachusetts Amherst Kinesiology Department. She is advised by Dr. Catrine Tudor-Locke. Sands’ primary research interests are physical activity, walking and running gait, and associations with health outcomes. During her undergraduate tenure, Sands captained the University of Massachusetts Division-1 track & field team, and she continues to race competitively in distance running events.