Open Access Open Badges Research article

How much locomotive activity is needed for an active physical activity level: analysis of total step counts

Kazunori Ohkawara1*, Kazuko Ishikawa-Takata1, Jong Hoon Park1, Izumi Tabata2 and Shigeho Tanaka1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Health Promotion and Exercise, National Institute of Health and Nutrition, 1-23-1 Toyama, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 162-8636, Japan

2 Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences, Ritsumeikan University, Shiga 525-8577, Japan

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:512  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-512

Published: 24 November 2011



Although physical activity recommendations for public health have focused on locomotive activity such as walking and running, it is uncertain how much these activities contribute to overall physical activity level (PAL). The purpose of the present study was to determine the contribution of locomotive activity to PAL using total step counts measured in a calorimeter study.


PAL, calculated as total energy expenditure divided by basal metabolic rate, was evaluated in 11 adult men using three different conditions for 24-hour human calorimeter measurements: a low-activity day (L-day) targeted at a low active level of PAL (1.45), and a high-frequency moderate activity day (M-day) or a high-frequency vigorous activity day (V-day) targeted at an active level of PAL (1.75). These subjects were permitted only light activities except prescribed activities. In a separate group of 41 adults, free-living PAL was evaluated using doubly-labeled water (DLW). In both experiments, step counts per day were also measured using an accelerometer.


In the human calorimeter study, PAL and step counts were 1.42 ± 0.10 and 8,973 ± 543 steps/d (L-day), 1.82 ± 0.14 and 29,588 ± 1,126 steps/d (M-day), and 1.74 ± 0.15 and 23,755 ± 1,038 steps/d (V-day), respectively. In the DLW study, PAL and step counts were 1.73 ± 0.15 and 10,022 ± 2,605 steps/d, and there was no significant relationship between PAL and daily step counts.


These results indicate that an enormous number of steps are needed for an active level of PAL if individuals extend physical activity-induced energy expenditure by only locomotive activity. Therefore, non-locomotive activity such as household activity should also play a significant role in increasing PAL under free-living conditions.