How fast is fast enough? Walking cadence (steps/min) as a practical estimate of intensity in adults: a narrative review

Br J Sports Med. 2018 Jun;52(12):776-788. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2017-097628.


Background: Cadence (steps/min) may be a reasonable proxy-indicator of ambulatory intensity. A summary of current evidence is needed for cadence-based metrics supporting benchmark (standard or point of reference) and threshold (minimums associated with desired outcomes) values that are informed by a systematic process.

Objective: To review how fast, in terms of cadence, is enough, with reference to crafting public health recommendations in adults.

Methods: A comprehensive search strategy was conducted to identify relevant studies focused on walking cadence and intensity for adults. Identified studies (n=38) included controlled (n=11), free-living observational (n=18) and intervention (n=9) designs.

Results: There was a strong relationship between cadence (as measured by direct observation and objective assessments) and intensity (indirect calorimetry). Despite acknowledged interindividual variability, ≥100 steps/min is a consistent heuristic (e.g, evidence-based, rounded) value associated with absolutely defined moderate intensity (3 metabolic equivalents (METs)). Epidemiological studies report notably low mean daily cadences (ie, 7.7 steps/min), shaped primarily by the very large proportion of time (13.5 hours/day) spent between zero and purposeful cadences (<60 steps/min) at the population level. Published values for peak 1-min and 30-min cadences in healthy free-living adults are >100 and >70 steps/min, respectively. Peak cadence indicators are negatively associated with increased age and body mass index. Identified intervention studies used cadence to either prescribe and/or quantify ambulatory intensity but the evidence is best described as preliminary.

Conclusions: A cadence value of ≥100 steps/min in adults appears to be a consistent and reasonable heuristic answer to 'How fast is fast enough?' during sustained and rhythmic ambulatory behaviour.

Trial registration number: NCT02650258.

Keywords: exercise; physical activity; walking.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Exercise*
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Observational Studies as Topic
  • Walking Speed*

Associated data