Ditch that fitness tracker and forget trying to calculate max heart rate.

Robert Roy Britt
Feb 4 · 3 min read

We’ve all heard walking is good for us. But how much, and at what pace? And who wants to fiddle with those complex, often inaccurate wearable devices to measure steps-per-minute, heart rate, and oxygen something-or-other?

A new study just took a giant step toward simplifying fitness goals and measurements for regular ol’ walking (which is, yes, a highly recommended approach to warding off disease and supporting general mental and physical well-being).

The new method works for anyone, anytime, anywhere. Unsplash/Brian Mann

U.S. federal guidelines for adults call for 2.5 hours weekly of moderate exercise, which can include walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. Even more is better, the recommendation goes. (Muscle-strengthening should be added in, too, the guidelines say.)

But what qualifies as moderate, or vigorous?

University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers just figured it out for the 21–40 age group (other age groups are still under study). They had 80 men and women do a series of treadmill tests, all while wired up to fancy equipment that you can’t afford and which isn’t very portable.

The Guidelines

For those age 21 to 40, simply walk about 100 steps per minute to achieve the moderate-intensity exercise threshold, or 130 per minute for vigorous effort.

If you have a watch, count your steps for 15 seconds and multiply by four to get a feel for your pace. If not, don’t worry. About 80 percent of the study participants naturally walked at a cadence of about 110 steps per minute, said study team member Elroy Aguiar.

“Most adults between the ages of 21–40 can be confident that they can achieve a moderate intensity (and the associated improvements in health) by walking at a self-selected (normal or usual) pace,” Aguiar told me.

The research, led by Catrine Tudor-Locke and funded by the federal National Institute on Aging, is detailed Jan. 17 in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

Good for Anyone

The pace should be effective for anyone in that age group, regardless of fitness level, Aguiar said.

“Individuals who are sedentary could aim to walk at a cadence of approximately 100 steps per minute, and then gradually challenge themselves to walk faster up to or above 130 steps per minute to achieve a vigorous intensity,” he said. Anyone struggling to achieve the 100 mark should aim to just get out there and amble around, and build up their pace, he said, adding: “Any physical activity is better than none.”

“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,” said study leader Catrine Tudor-Locke.

Next steps in the research project include analyzing the data from the older groups. The data is all gathered for the 41–60 group, and the volunteers age 61–85 are halfway through their testing. The researchers also plan to create individualized recommendations that consider factors such as fitness level, body mass index, gender and narrower age categories.


Exploring the human condition and ways to improve it.

Robert Roy Britt

Written by

Explainer of things, former editor-in-chief of Live Science and Space .com, author of the science thriller “5 Days to Landfall.”



Exploring the human condition and ways to improve it.

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