How Many Steps Mean ‘Moderate’ Exercise?

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February 13, 2019


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The number of steps taken each day has become a key barometer of exercise as many Americans sport a smartphone, high-tech watch or other type of fitness tracker to measure walking levels and intensity. But how many steps are considered “moderate” exercise, the term used in physical activity guidelines recommended by the American Heart Association and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)?

According to researchers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, walking about 100 steps per minute is considered “moderate” and 130 steps per minute can be considered “vigorous” or intense.

The research, published in International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, looked at 76 men and women between 21 and 41 years old walking on a treadmill at different speeds. By observing their steps and pace, the researchers concluded 102 steps per minute are optimal to be considered “moderate” exercise, while cadence of 129 steps per minute is enough to be valued as “intense.”

Intensity is increased with each additional 10 steps walked per minute, the study also concluded.

Health Benefits of Walking

The research-backed facts about the health benefits of walking include:

  • Replacing sitting with two minutes of walking can lower risk of premature death by about 33 percent.
  • People in their mid-70s who have been active for most of their lives have similar cardiovascular health as 40- to 45-year-olds.
  • Walking can lower risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
  • Emotional health improves from walking.

“Walking can lower your cholesterol, support a healthy weight and improve your blood pressure,” said Chantis Mantilla, manager of community health at Baptist Health South Florida. “Walking is one of the easiest and most inexpensive ways to get active and accomplish your physical activity goals.”

How Much Exercise Do You Need?

For optimal exercise benefits, the American Heart Association recommends:

  • For overall cardiovascular health: At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity five days per week for a total of 150 minutes. Or, at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity three days per week for a total of 75 minutes. A combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity is also acceptable.
  • Moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity: At least two days per week for additional health benefits.
  • For lowering blood pressure and cholesterol: An average 40 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic activity three or four times per week.
  • For older adults, 65 and older: When the person is generally fit and has no limiting health conditions, the CDC recommends 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week; and muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) two or more days a week.

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