That popular daily target of 10,000 steps is a worthwhile goal, but a new study at Oregon State University suggests that if you find that unattainable, don’t despair – a smaller number, especially at moderate or greater intensity, can lead to health benefits too.
[Photo: Dr. John Schuna Jr.]
It’s especially helpful if 3,000 of the steps come at a brisk pace, and limiting sedentary time also plays a role in healthy readings for cholesterol and other risk factors.
The average American takes between 5,000 and 7,000 steps per day, researchers say.
“Some physical activity is better than none, and typically more is better than less,” said Dr. John Schuna Jr., assistant professor of kinesiology in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.
“When it comes to steps, more is better than fewer, and steps at higher cadences for a significant amount of time are beneficial. A good target for healthy adults is 150 minutes per week spent at 100 or more steps per minute. And in terms of time spent sedentary, less is better – you want to spend as little time not moving as possible within reason.”
Dr. Schuna, lead author Catrine Tudor-Locke of the University of Massachusetts and six other researchers analyzed data from 3,388 participants age 20 and older in a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Their findings were recently published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
The research builds on earlier studies, many of which relied on self-reported estimates of activity levels, which tend to run high, or accelerometer data using proprietary output measures (e.g., activity counts/minute), and also failed to take cadence – steps per minute – into account. A cadence of 100 steps per minute or greater is widely accepted as the threshold for moderate-intensity activity in adults.
In addition to minute-by-minute step data, the researchers looked at relationships between step-defined physical activity and various cardiometabolic risk factors for the survey participants – such as waist circumference, blood pressure, fasting glucose, insulin, and cholesterol levels, as well as body mass index.
Among male participants, only the highest quintile – the top one-fifth – had a median of more than 10,000 steps per day, checking in at 12,334. Among women, the top quintile’s median was 9,824.
Beyond just total step counts, the research looked at daily “peak 30-minute cadence” – the average number of steps in a participant’s most vigorous 30 minutes, which weren’t necessarily consecutive minutes. To measure sedentary time, researchers used the percentage of accelerometer time per day that showed no step-based movement.
Among all survey participants, only the top quintile had a median peak cadence – 96 steps per minute – that was in line with accepted physical activity guidelines of 30 minutes a day at 100 steps per minute.