Harvard Heart Letter

Defining a moderate-intensity workout

A simple walking test can gauge the intensity of your walking pace.

Engage in moderate-intensity physical activity for a minimum of 150 minutes each week. That's the current national recommendation on physical activity. It's easy enough to understand, except for the "moderate intensity" part. Does that mean walking? So-called "brisk" walking? Jogging?

San Diego State University researcher Simon Marshall has come up with a practical rule of thumb for figuring out "moderate intensity" as it applies to walking: it's akin to taking at least 100 steps per minute. To get to this definition, Marshall and his colleagues recruited 97 women and men. Each walked on a treadmill four times at four different speeds — from 2.4 miles per hour to 4.1 — while a machine measured the amount of energy he or she was expending. The volunteers also wore pedometers to count their steps.

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