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Why walking 100 steps a minute is good for you. And 130 is even better

Researchers: Walking can put you on a path to better health.
Researchers: Walking can put you on a path to better health. (Fotolia)

University of Massachusetts researchers say there is a free, easy way for you to know if you’re meeting federal health advice for exercise while you’re out walking: Count your steps per minute. The researchers said they determined that, for a group of younger adults ages 21 to 40, 100 steps per minute typically meets the guideline for “moderate exercise,” while 130 steps per minute or more meets the guideline for “vigorous exercise.”

Federal guidelines call for a minimum of 2½ hours of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week.

The findings came from a five-year study that is expected to develop rule-of-thumb walking cadences for people from ages 21 to 85. Catrine Tudor-Locke, a professor of kinesiology at UMass Amherst, led the study, published this month in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

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The researchers said 90 percent of the participants’ normal walking cadences met the threshold of 100 steps per minute, or moderate exercise. (Research has found that running begins around 140 steps per minute.)

“This research establishes a very practical method to measure the intensity of walking, one that is very easy to communicate and also rigorously validated by the science,” Tudor-Locke said in a statement.

The researchers suggested that people could just count their steps for 15 seconds and multiply by 4 to get their steps-per-minute number. There’s no need to buy any tech gizmos. Postdoctoral researcher Elroy Aguiar, who worked on the study with fellow postdoc Scott Ducharme and others, said walking is “a low-cost, low-skill, feasible activity choice which has the potential to drastically improve people’s health.”

“Our society has engineered movement out of our life,” he said. “We have TVs, we have cars, we have remotes. It’s clear that you can achieve the public health guidelines for physical activity through walking.”

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The researchers noted that previous studies had also suggested the 100-steps-per-minute and 130-steps-per-minute cadences.

Aguiar said the researchers are working to develop individualized recommendations for walking cadences that could vary depending on factors such as age, sex, height, weight, body mass index, and leg length.

At the same time, it’s useful for public health reasons to make general recommendations as the researchers have done, Aguiar said.

“It’s very powerful to have a single number that everyone can aim to achieve. . . . In many ways, keeping it simple is an effective strategy to getting more people to do it,” he said.


Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.