People with impaired glucose tolerance can reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease by 8% simply by walking an additional 2,000 steps a day, a large international study says.

Impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), a precursor to type 2 diabetes, affects 79 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Worldwide, the figures are even more staggering – with researchers saying 344 million people are currently affected, and this number is set to rise to 472 million by 2030.

Led by Dr. Thomas Yates, from the University of Leicester in the UK, the latest study analyzed data collected from 9,306 adults from 40 countries.

The findings, published in The Lancet, suggest that an extra 20 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking, reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke by 8%.

Dr. Yates explains:

People with IGT have a greatly increased risk of cardiovascular disease. While several studies have suggested that physical activity is beneficially linked to health in those with IGT, this is the first study to specifically quantify the extent to which change in walking behaviour can modify the risk of heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular-related deaths.”

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New research highlights the importance of regular physical exercise for maintaining heart health and delaying the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Analyzing data originally collected for the NAVIGATOR trial, the researchers focused on the 9,306 adults who had IGT and cardiovascular disease, or at least one cardiovascular risk factor.

All the participants received information aimed at losing weight, cutting dietary fat intake and increasing physical exercise to 150 minutes per week.

The researchers noted the average number of steps each participant walked per day – as recorded by a pedometer – over a week at the start of the study and again 1 year later.

They found that participants who had increased their exercise by walking an extra 2,000 steps each day had a 10% lower risk of cardiovascular disease than the previous year.

They also found that every 2,000 step increase or decrease in walking activity from that originally recorded was associated with an additional 8% lower or higher cardiovascular event rate.

Dr. Yates adds:

Our results provide novel evidence that changing physical activity levels through simply increasing the number of steps taken can substantially reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, such as heart attack and stroke. Importantly, these benefits are seen regardless of bodyweight status or the starting level of activity.”

The study notes that lifestyle changes provide the foundations for many diabetes prevention programs and walking is known to be the most common and preferred choice of physical activity.

Dr. Yates concludes:

“These novel findings provide the strongest evidence yet for the importance of physical activity in high risk populations and will inform diabetes and cardiovascular disease prevention programmes worldwide.”

So, while it may not be rocket science, it turns out that a fairly brisk 20-minute walk each day will greatly benefit your heart health and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Walking has previously been shown to have health benefits, with walking to work reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease.