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Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2019 Jan 17;16(1):8. doi: 10.1186/s12966-019-0769-6.

Walking cadence (steps/min) and intensity in 21-40 year olds: CADENCE-adults.

Author information

Department of Kinesiology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 160A Totman Building, 30 Eastman Lane, Amherst, MA, 01003, USA.
Department of Kinesiology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 160A Totman Building, 30 Eastman Lane, Amherst, MA, 01003, USA.
School of Community Health Sciences, Counseling and Counseling Psychology, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, OK, 74078, USA.
School of Biological and Population Health Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, 97331, USA.
School of Education, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, 13244, USA.
Institute for Applied Life Sciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA, 01003, USA.
Department of Counseling, Health and Kinesiology, Texas A&M University - San Antonio, San Antonio, TX, 78224, USA.
Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA, 01003, USA.



Previous studies have reported that walking cadence (steps/min) is associated with absolutely-defined intensity (metabolic equivalents; METs), such that cadence-based thresholds could serve as reasonable proxy values for ambulatory intensities.


To establish definitive heuristic (i.e., evidence-based, practical, rounded) thresholds linking cadence with absolutely-defined moderate (3 METs) and vigorous (6 METs) intensity.


In this laboratory-based cross-sectional study, 76 healthy adults (10 men and 10 women representing each 5-year age-group category between 21 and 40 years, BMI = 24.8 ± 3.4 kg/m2) performed a series of 5-min treadmill bouts separated by 2-min rests. Bouts began at 0.5 mph and increased in 0.5 mph increments until participants: 1) chose to run, 2) achieved 75% of their predicted maximum heart rate, or 3) reported a Borg rating of perceived exertion > 13. Cadence was hand-tallied, and intensity (METs) was measured using a portable indirect calorimeter. Optimal cadence thresholds for moderate and vigorous ambulatory intensities were identified using a segmented regression model with random coefficients, as well as Receiver Operating Characteristic (ROC) models. Positive predictive values (PPV) of candidate heuristic thresholds were assessed to determine final heuristic values.


Optimal cadence thresholds for 3 METs and 6 METs were 102 and 129 steps/min, respectively, using the regression model, and 96 and 120 steps/min, respectively, using ROC models. Heuristic values were set at 100 steps/min (PPV of 91.4%), and 130 steps/min (PPV of 70.7%), respectively.


Cadence thresholds of 100 and 130 steps/min can serve as reasonable heuristic thresholds representative of absolutely-defined moderate and vigorous ambulatory intensity, respectively, in 21-40 year olds. These values represent useful proxy values for recommending and modulating the intensity of ambulatory behavior and/or as measurement thresholds for processing accelerometer data.



Accelerometer; Exercise; Pedometer; Physical activity

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