Speed counts when walking to beat diabetes, says new study
While it's known that regular walking can help you ward off diabetes, a new study attempts to quantify the speed that maximizes the exercise's benefits. It turns out a little extra pep may go a long way toward cutting your risk of the disease.
It's no surprise that exercise and walking are potent health boosters. A study just a few months ago revealed that it takes as little as 2,337 daily steps to reduce our risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and just about 4,000 steps a day to cut our risk of dying from any disease, including diabetes.
Another 2023 study showed that exercising about 150 minutes a week through a combination of aerobic and resistance training – especially in the afternoons – could reduce the risk of developing type II diabetes. And an earlier study showed that it was possible to reverse diabetes in 61% of patients through diet and exercise alone.
In an effort to continue to quantify just how much exercise is enough to provide health-boosting benefits, a team of researchers from institutions in Iran, the UK, and Norway undertook an evaluation of studies published through May 2023. Finding 10 studies that suited the purposes of the researchers, they determined that walking between 3-4 mph (5-6 km/h) provided a 24% lower risk of getting the disease over people who walked at the slower speed of 2 mph (3 km/h). And those slow walkers were already seeing a 15% lower risk of developing type II diabetes from their efforts.
What's more, it was found that going even faster – at a rate above 4 mph (6 km/h) slashed diabetes risk by 39%. In fact, the researchers say that every 1 km/h (0.6 mph) increase in walking speed was linked with a 9% lower risk of getting T2D.
Walking at 4 mph translates to carrying out about 8,000 steps in one hour.
Because this was a study of studies, the researchers urge caution with interpreting their findings. For starters, they found that three of the studies they relied on had a moderate risk of bias, while seven of them had serious risks due to the ways in which walking speed was reported and the way in which they evaluated other influences on the study participants. They also point out that establishing the link between faster walking and lower diabetes risk may not be causal. In other words, people who naturally walk faster might just be healthier overall than those who don't.
Still, because the studies used represented data from 508,121 adults from the UK, USA, and Japan over the course of three to 11 years, they feel that their findings, which have been published in the peer-reviewed British Journal of Medicine, are worth taking note of. Especially since the number of adults living with diabetes in 2021 was 537 million – a number that is predicted to climb to 783 million by 2045.
"The present meta-analysis of cohort studies suggested that fairly brisk and brisk/striding walking, independent of the total volume of physical activity or time spent walking per day, may be associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes in adults," they concluded. "While current strategies to increase total walking time are beneficial, it may also be reasonable to encourage people to walk at faster speeds to further increase the health benefits of walking."