A step-defined sedentary lifestyle index: <5000 steps/day

Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2013 Feb;38(2):100-14. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2012-0235. Epub 2012 Nov 8.


Step counting (using pedometers or accelerometers) is widely accepted by researchers, practitioners, and the general public. Given the mounting evidence of the link between low steps/day and time spent in sedentary behaviours, how few steps/day some populations actually perform, and the growing interest in the potentially deleterious effects of excessive sedentary behaviours on health, an emerging question is "How many steps/day are too few?" This review examines the utility, appropriateness, and limitations of using a reoccurring candidate for a step-defined sedentary lifestyle index: <5000 steps/day. Adults taking <5000 steps/day are more likely to have a lower household income and be female, older, of African-American vs. European-American heritage, a current vs. never smoker, and (or) living with chronic disease and (or) disability. Little is known about how contextual factors (e.g., built environment) foster such low levels of step-defined physical activity. Unfavorable indicators of body composition and cardiometabolic risk have been consistently associated with taking <5000 steps/day. The acute transition (3-14 days) of healthy active young people from higher (>10 000) to lower (<5000 or as low as 1500) daily step counts induces reduced insulin sensitivity and glycemic control, increased adiposity, and other negative changes in health parameters. Although few alternative values have been considered, the continued use of <5000 steps/day as a step-defined sedentary lifestyle index for adults is appropriate for researchers and practitioners and for communicating with the general public. There is little evidence to advocate any specific value indicative of a step-defined sedentary lifestyle index in children and adolescents.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Monitoring, Ambulatory / standards*
  • Sedentary Behavior*
  • Walking