Adding This Simple Exercise to Your Routine Cuts Type 2 Diabetes Risk By Nearly 40%

Adding This Simple Exercise to Your Routine Cuts Type 2 Diabetes Risk By Nearly 40%
  • New research finds brisk walking may lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

  • In the study, people who walked at a faster-than-normal pace were nearly 40% less likely to develop the condition.

  • Doctors say there are a few reasons why walking may help lower your type 2 diabetes risk.

About one in 10 Americans have diabetes and, of those, up to 95% have type 2 diabetes, making this an incredibly common condition. While there are certain risk factors for developing the disease that you can’t control, like genetics, there are some things you can do to lower the odds you’ll develop it. New research finds brisk, or fast, walking may lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

That’s the main takeaway from a new meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. For the analysis, researchers crunched data from 10 studies conducted between 1999 and 2022 that looked at walking speed and the development of type 2 diabetes in adults in the U.S., U.K., and Japan.

Study subjects were followed up for an average of eight years. The researchers discovered that people who walked at an average pace had a 15% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who had an easy or casual pace. Those who moved at a “fairly brisk” pace had a 24% lower risk than casual walkers, while people who had a “brisk/striding” pace had a 39% lowered risk.

The researchers noted that their findings suggest that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes “decreased significantly” when people walked at a faster pace. But why might walking quickly help lower your type 2 diabetes risk? Doctors explain.

Why might walking help lower your type 2 diabetes risk?

It’s important to note this up front: While the study found a link between faster walkers and a lowered risk of developing type 2 diabetes, they didn’t actually prove that fast walking causes a decreased risk for the disease. “However, there are studies to suggest that brisk walking is good for you and indeed may also reduce the risk of diabetes,” says Christoph Buettner, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the division of endocrinology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

This also isn’t a new concept. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends walking as a way to lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes—and the agency notes that a more intense, faster pace is best.

So, why might this be helpful? There are a few theories. The first is that walking is simply a form of exercise, which the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) says is helpful for lowering type 2 diabetes risk. “Walking counts as an activity and the higher the intensity, the greater the benefit,” says Neel Chokshi, M.D., medical director of Penn Medicine’s Sports Cardiology program.

“Exercise has many benefits,” Dr. Buettner says. “It improves insulin sensitivity, meaning insulin works better and your organs become more efficient in using glucose and lipids from the bloodstream.” This helps maintain blood sugar levels and lowers the risk of insulin resistance, “a key factor in the development of type 2 diabetes,” Dr. Buettner says.

Exercise also helps with weight loss and weight management, Dr. Buettner points out. “Maintaining a healthy weight is a key factor in preventing type 2 diabetes, as excess body fat—especially around the abdomen—is associated with insulin resistance,” he says.

Exercise also reduces stress responses in the body, reducing inflammation and lowering blood pressure, Dr. Buettner says.

Walking fast is more beneficial than moving at a slower pace, simply because it’s a more rigorous exercise, Dr. Buettner says.

Finally, it’s also possible that people who tend to walk faster are simply healthier and in better shape than those who have a slower pace, Dr. Buettner says. That, he says, “may reduce diabetes risk independently of their habit of walking [briskly].”

What is a “brisk” walking pace, exactly?

Any walking is better than none. But, in case you want to maximize the results of your walking experience, the researchers categorized walking speeds this way:

  • Normal: 1.98–2.98 miles per hour

  • Fairly brisk: 2.98–3.97 miles per hour

  • Brisk/striding: Greater than 3.97 miles per hour

Again, faster walking speeds were linked to a lowered risk of type 2 diabetes. But it’s worth noting that the ADA recommends working your way up to 10,000 steps a day (or at least 30 minutes a day) to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. You can also try interval training with your walks—like walking fast for two blocks and slowly for one block, before speeding up again, says Pouya Shafipour, M.D., a board-certified family and obesity medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. “This helps with heart rate variability and decreases insulin resistance,” he says.

If walking isn’t something you do often already, the ADA suggests the following to increase your steps:

  • Walk during your lunch break.

  • Walk when you talk on the phone.

  • Pick the farthest parking spot and walk to your destination.

  • Use the stairs.

  • Clean your home.

  • Take your dog for an extra walk or take a longer-than-usual route.

  • Schedule walking dates with friends.

“All walking is good walking,” Dr. Chokshi says. “But if you want to do more, just pick up the pace a little.”

If you’re concerned about your type 2 diabetes risk, talk to your doctor. They should be able to offer personalized guidance to help reduce the odds you’ll develop the condition.

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