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Can Your Walking Speed Prevent Type 2 Diabetes?


two people walking

Type 2 diabetes is a gradual, progressive chronic disease that is recognized as being one of the most common metabolic disorders as it currently affects 537 million adults worldwide and is predicted to rise to 783 million by 2045. Because increased blood sugar thickens the circulating blood, people with type 2 diabetes are at greater risk of microvascular as well as larger blood vessel complications and disease, as well as reduced life expectancy.


Along with eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise is important for reducing one’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes, particularly taking regular walks. In fact, past research suggests that taking daily walks can lower one’s risk for type 2 diabetes by 15%, but it turns out that walking speed is also important.  A 2023 systematic review and meta-analysis of ten cohort studies revealed that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes did not significantly change until walking speed exceeded 4 km/hour (~2.5 mph) or 87 steps/minute for men and 100 steps/minute for women. The review also found the risk continues to decline with faster walking speeds, at least until 8 km/hour (or about 5 mph).


But what if someone can’t maintain a brisk pace for prolonged periods of time? In another systematic review, also published in 2023, researchers found that adopting a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) approach is a viable option for improving glycemic control, aerobic resistance, and body composition. In HIIT, exercisers workout at high intensity for short burst of time separated by longer intervals at a lower intensity. For a walker, this may be achieved by walking at a brisk pace for a limited period of time, such as one minute, and then slowing down to a moderate pace for two minutes and repeating the process for several cycles. Unfortunately, there’s no one agreed-upon format for an HIIT walking intervention so further research is needed in this area.


Best of all, walking is simple and inexpensive and offers several social, mental, and physical health benefits. Several studies have shown that regular walking is associated with a lower risk of both cardiovascular events and early death. Researchers note that a greater number of steps per day may be associated with a lower risk of premature death.

 

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