Walking Faster Linked to Decreased Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Three women and a dog walk outside.
Study finds people who walk more quickly are less likely to have type 2 diabetes. SolStock/Getty Images
  • Picking up the pace while walking is linked to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to a new study.
  • A faster walking speed is associated with fewer heart disease risk factors, including higher insulin resistance, higher body weight, and higher blood pressure.
  • People who walk at a faster pace typically have better cardio-respiratory health and overall functional capacity, as well as better lower limb and core strength, compared to those who don’t walk at an increased speed.

Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects millions of people of worldwide.

More than 95% of those with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. To manage this health condition, experts typically recommend lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise.

Now, a new study shows that walking at a speed of 4 or more km an hour (about 2.5 mph) is linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. The findings were published this week in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The findings also demonstrated that when the walking pace was higher than 4 km/hour, the risk for developing type 2 diabetes decreased. As the speed went up by 1 km (0.6 miles) per hour the risk was lowered by 9%.

A faster walk linked to lower type 2 diabetes risk

After analyzing data of 508,121 adults from 1999 and 2022, researchers found that people who walked at an average or normal speed of 3-5 km/hour (1.8-3.1 mph) were associated with a 15% reduced risk of type 2 diabetes compared to people who walked at slower walking speeds.

“Our main finding was that faster habitual walking is associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future,” Dr. Ahmad Jayedi, study author and researcher at the Social Determinants of Health Research Center, Semnan University of Medical Sciences, Semnan, Iran., told Healthline. “Surprisingly, we found that the slowest walking speed to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes was 4 km/h, equal to 87 steps/min for males and 100 steps/min for females.”

Jayedi continued: “Of the 10 studies included in the review, 5 used timed walking-pace test and 5 used self-reported questionnaires to measure walking speed, and studies with self-reported methods reported weaker associations (but still significant associations). Therefore, prospective cohort studies that used objective methods to measure walking speed, e.g., timed walking-pace test, are needed to present more robust evidence.” 

Also, it is now indicated that time spent walking per day (or step count per day) and walking speed are associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Perhaps future studies can investigate the potential association between time of walking (morning, evening, night) and diabetes risk, Jayedi added. 

Why a faster walking speed may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes

Fast walking strengthens the heart and helps it relax so it is a more efficient pump. Fast walking also promotes vascular health and helps boost the production of nitric oxide, a chemical that helps improve blood flow and lower blood pressure.

“Faster walking pace is associated with reduced presence or severity of cardiovascular risk factors,” such as insulin resistance, higher body weight and hypertension,” said Dr. John Higgins, sports cardiologist with UTHealth Houston.

Additionally, people who walk faster are less likely to develop high blood pressure, according to researchers.

“Higher intensities require greater contribution from blood glucose,” Matthew Stults-Kolehmainen, exercise physiologist, Yale New Haven Health, stated.

Health benefits of brisk walking 

People who can walk faster generally have greater cardiac health and overall functional capacity as well as better lower limb and core strength, Higgins explained.

To gauge your walking speed, you can use a pace device such a wearable monitor like a Fitbit or Garmin.

“Set your goal pace – and the device will GPS monitor you to make sure you’re keeping at the correct faster pace, and warn you to speed up if you are falling behind,” said Higgins.

Other options include using an electronic metronome and keeping up with a certain frequency of beats with each step and forcing yourself to do your same walk distance in a shorter time.

There are numerous advantages of picking up the pace. Higgins provided a list:

“The main benefit of going faster is that you can do less,” said Stultz. “For instance, ACSM recommends that you can do 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous.”

To start walking faster, either use a wearable pacer device that has a pace function or use an electronic metronome and keep up with a certain frequency of beats with each step. Also, force yourself to do your same walk distance in a shorter time, Higgins recommended.

Takeaway

A new study indicates that walking faster can lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Results show that the faster a person walked, the more the risk went down.

Increased walking speed is linked to fewer and less severe cardiovascular risk factors, and lower insulin resistance, lower body weight, and lower blood pressure.

Those who walk at a brisk pace generally demonstrate stronger cardio-respiratory health and functional capacity and stronger lower limbs and core.

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