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Researchers say the pace of your walking is more important than how long you walk. Nata Dietrich/Getty Images
  • Researchers are reporting that walking at a brisk pace can significantly lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • They add the benefits of a quicker pace are noticable no matter how long you walk.
  • Experts advise people to start slowly while building a daily walking routine and make sure you have a good pair of shoes.

Walking at a quicker pace can significantly lower a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a study published today in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Researchers looked at relevant long-term studies published between 1999 and 2022 with follow-up periods between 3 and 11 years.

They found 10 eligible studies with 508,121 adults from the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

The findings included:

  • Compared to strolling less than 2 miles or 3.2 kilometers per hour, walking 2 to 3 miles or 3.2 to 4.8 kilometers per hour was associated with a 15% lower risk of type 2 diabetes, irrespective of the time spent walking.
  • Fairly brisk walking at 3 to 4 miles or 4.8 to 6.4 km per hour was associated with a 24% lower risk of type 2 diabetes compared to strolling.
  • Brisk walking or striding at above 4 miles or 6.4 km per hour was associated with a reduced risk of around 39%, equal to 2.24 fewer cases of type 2 diabetes in every 100 people.
  • Every increase of 1 km of speed was associated with a 9% reduction in risk.

The researchers did not determine the optimal speed to ward off the disease.

Physical inactivity limits the muscle’s ability to utilize glucose and results in decreased muscle mass, which worsens the issue,” said Dr. Minsha Sood, an endocrinologist at Northwell Lenox Hill Hospital in New York who was not involved in the study.

“The findings of this study, despite its limitations, align with our understanding of how important muscle health is to glucose utilization, lowering inflammation, and improving overall health,” she told Medical News Today.

Walking speed is an important indicator of health. Faster walking speed is associated with better cardiorespiratory fitness and muscle strength. Brisk walking helps with weight loss, which can improve insulin sensitivity.

“The present meta-analysis of cohort studies suggests 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,” the study authors wrote. “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.”

The researchers acknowledged the following limitations in their study:

  • Three of the studies had a moderate risk of bias. The other seven had serious risk due to inadequate adjustment for potentially influential factors and how researchers assessed walking speed.
  • Participants with faster walking speed might be more likely to be physically active and have better cardiorespiratory fitness, greater muscle mass, and better overall health status.

“Start by making sure you don’t have open sores or cuts on your feet and are wearing appropriate footwear to avoid unnecessary foot/skin injuries while walking,” Sood advised. “Start by using a pedometer or other mechanism by which you can count your daily steps and track your natural activity for 5 to 7 days to observe your average daily step count. Increase your daily average by 1,000 steps per 1 to 2 weeks until you are at a minimum of 7,500 to 8,000 steps per day.”

“Additionally, it’s a good idea to incorporate walks after meals (especially dinner, as this is often a larger meal) for 10 to 15 minutes to maximize glucose utilization,” she added. “This can start as simply standing after a meal and taking steps to move around one’s home after meals to create the habit while building up to actual walks after meals for a longer duration.”

The American Heart Association’s Walking 101 provides information for creating a personalized walking program. They suggest:

  • Start slow and work up. Start at the speed you are comfortable with when walking. Initial walks might only be 10 to 15 minutes a day. Strive to reach 150 minutes of moderate-intensity walking each week.
  • Use a step-counting pedometer. You can use a stand-alone pedometer, Fitbit, or smartwatch to keep track of your progress. With some apps, you can monitor your actions by providing a history of your daily steps.
  • Set aside time to walk. Incorporate walking into your daily schedule.
  • Set goals. Start with small goals. The end goal might be 10,000 steps or 30 minutes daily. Create midpoints that encourage you to continue.
  • Keep a walking log. If you use an app that creates a log, use that. If not, write down the date, how many steps you walked, how long you walked, and how you felt after the walk.
  • Follow safe walking habits. Start with a warm-up walk and then do flexibility or stretching exercises. Repeat this at the end of your walk.
  • Have the right shoes. Walking shoes wear out after 350 to 500 miles and old shoes can cause injuries, so be sure to replace your shoes regularly.

“I recommend a minimum of 30 minutes a day of walking and strength training three times a week to help with insulin resistance,” said Dr. Pouya Shafipour, a family and obesity medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California who was not involved in the study.

“I believe interval training is best, for example, walking fast for two blocks and slowly for one block. This helps with heart rate variability and increases insulin resistance,” he told Medical News Today.

“Exercise improves your physical health, mental health, sleep, and cognition,” said Dr. Priya Jaisinghani, an endocrinologist and obesity medicine specialist at NYU Langone Health in New York who was not involved in the study. “Being active enables individuals to live healthier lives.”

Individuals with type 2 diabetes should speak with their physicians before starting any exercise regimen, even walking. Physicians will consider present health status, medications, and blood sugar control when giving recommendations for daily exercise.

“Even a single session of exercise can improve insulin sensitivity and the uptake of glucose by muscles, which can result in a lowering of glucose concentrations during certain activities and after the activity as well,” Jaisinghani told Medical News Today.

Complications of type 2 diabetes might require adjustments to exercise routines, according to Jaisinghani. These include:

  • If you have peripheral neuropathy, discuss with your doctor, exercise physiologist, and team which exercises to avoid and which may be more appropriate for you. Check in with your podiatrist for well-fitting protective footwear and continue to get your feet examined regularly.
  • If you are on insulin therapy, speak to your doctor about timing the exercise related to meals or insulin injections or boluses for those on insulin pumps. If experiencing high or low blood sugars, please speak to your doctor to make the appropriate modifications to ensure safety while exercising. The goal is to ensure that blood glucose levels are somewhat predictable and reproducible when exercising.
  • If you are on a newer insulin pump, speak to your doctor about using a feature called “exercise mode,” which will increase the glucose target and reduce basal rates shortly before or during exercise and when to start exercise mode on your insulin pump in relation to beginning exercise.
  • If you are experiencing high or low blood sugars, especially concerning exercise, discuss this with your doctor to assess medication administration, blood glucose patterns, and behaviors you might need to change. Be sure to review how to treat high and low blood sugars with your doctor.