Cadence (steps/min) and relative intensity in 21 to 60-year-olds: the CADENCE-adults study

Cayla R. McAvoy, Christopher C. Moore, Elroy J. Aguiar, Scott W. Ducharme, John M. Schuna, Tiago V. Barreira, Colleen J. Chase, Zachary R. Gould, Marcos A. Amalbert-Birriel, Stuart R. Chipkin, John Staudenmayer, Catrine Tudor-Locke, Jose Mora-Gonzalez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background: Heuristic cadence (steps/min) thresholds of ≥100 and ≥ 130 steps/min correspond with absolutely-defined moderate (3 metabolic equivalents [METs]; 1 MET = 3.5 mL O2·kg− 1·min− 1) and vigorous (6 METs) intensity, respectively. Scarce evidence informs cadence thresholds for relatively-defined moderate (≥ 64% heart rate maximum [HRmax = 220-age], ≥ 40%HR reserve [HRR = HRmax -HRresting, and ≥ 12 Rating of Perceived Exertion [RPE]); or vigorous intensity (≥ 77%HRmax, ≥ 60%HRR, and ≥ 14 RPE). Purpose: To identify heuristic cadence thresholds corresponding with relatively-defined moderate and vigorous intensity in 21–60-year-olds. Methods: In this cross-sectional study, 157 adults (40.4 ± 11.5 years; 50.6% men) completed up to twelve 5-min treadmill bouts, beginning at 0.5 mph and increasing by 0.5 mph. Steps were directly observed, HR was measured with chest-worn monitors, and RPE was queried in the final minute of each bout. Segmented mixed model regression and Receiver Operating Characteristic (ROC) curve analyses identified optimal cadence thresholds, stratified by age (21–30, 31–40, 41–50, and 51–60 years). Reconciliation of the two analytical models, including trade-offs between sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values, and overall accuracy, yielded final heuristic cadences. Results: Across all moderate intensity indicators, the segmented regression models estimated optimal cadence thresholds ranging from 123.8–127.5 (ages 21–30), 121.3–126.0 (ages 31–40), 117.7–122.7 (ages 41–50), and 113.3–116.1 steps/min (ages 51–60). Corresponding values for vigorous intensity were 140.3–144.1, 140.2–142.6, 139.3–143.6, and 131.6–132.8 steps/min, respectively. ROC analysis estimated chronologically-arranged age groups’ cadence thresholds ranging from 114.5–118, 113.5–114.5, 104.6–112.9, and 103.6–106.0 across all moderate intensity indicators, and 127.5, 121.5, 117.2–123.2, and 113.0 steps/min, respectively, for vigorous intensity. Conclusions: Heuristic cadence thresholds corresponding to relatively-defined moderate intensity for the chronologically-arranged age groups were ≥ 120, 120, 115, and 105 steps/min, regardless of the intensity indicator (i.e., % HRmax, %HRR, or RPE). Corresponding heuristic values for vigorous intensity indicators were ≥ 135, 130, 125, and 120 steps/min. These cadences are useful for predicting/programming intensity aligned with age-associated differences in physiological response to, and perceived experiences of, moderate and/or vigorous intensity. Trial registration: NCT02650258. Registered 24 December 2015.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number27
JournalInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Accelerometer
  • Exercise
  • Oxygen consumption
  • Physical activity
  • Physiology
  • Step rate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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