Is walking faster good to control diabetes?

An international team of researchers, including from Imperial College London, wanted to ascertain the optimal walking speed to stave off the disease. They looked at ten studies published between 1999 and 2022, which included follow-up periods of between three and 11 years. Some 508,121 adult patients were included in total, from across the UK, Japan and the US.

Walking quickly not only gets you places faster, research suggests it might slash your chances of developing type 2 diabetes. Picking up the pace to 6km/h can reduce the risk by 39%, with every 1km/h cutting it by a further 9 per cent.

Experts said it was something everyone could do as part of their daily lives to halt the diabetes timebomb.

The team found walking at between 3km/h and 5km/h reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by 15% when compared with walking at a pace of less than 3km an hour. The risk reduced further with a faster pace, with a fairly brisk walk of between 5km/h and 6km/h is associated with 24% lower risk. Those who walked at a speed of higher than 6km/h had a 39% lower risk of developing the condition, according to the findings published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. This could be because people with a faster walking speed are more likely to be fitter, with greater muscle mass and better overall health. Brisk walking is also good for weight loss which helps to improve insulin sensitivity, they said. They conclude: '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.'

Rising obesity levels are blamed for soaring levels of diabetes in the UK, with estimates cases have now topped 5 million.

Approximately 90% of diabetes cases are type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity and is typically diagnosed in middle age, rather than type 1 diabetes, which is a genetic condition usually identified early in life. Neil Gibson, of Diabetes UK, said: 'Walking is cost-free, simple and for most people can be integrated into regular activities like getting to work, shopping and visiting friends. 'While progressing to a faster pace is usually recommended for greater health gains, it's important that people walk at a pace that they can manage and is suitable for them.' 

Increasing the intensity of physical activity—like walking faster—helps insulin function better, by absorbing blood sugar in the muscles, rather than in the bloodstream (which can cause high blood sugar levels), Benjamin Boudreaux, PhD, Physical Activity and Epidemiology Postdoctoral Fellow at Columbia University's Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health.

Boudreaux explained that living with type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes is like having a broken key (poor insulin regulation), and you are unable to unlock the door to walk in the house (blood sugar is unable to be absorbed out of the bloodstream). "As you exercise and increase your physical activity intensity, the key changes shape (insulin regulation improves) and you can unlock the door to walk in the house (blood sugar can be absorbed out of the bloodstream)," .

Walking pace can also be an indicator of a person's overall well-being.
"Faster walking speed might be a readout of better overall fitness and general health and people that have higher fitness are usually in better metabolic shape," Mireille Serlie, MD, PhD, professor of internal medicine (endocrinology) at Yale School of Medicine, told Health.

"Also, the association between walking speed and type 2 diabetes weakened when corrected for BMI, suggesting that body weight is a confounding factor in some of these studies," she said. "High BMI is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes." Walking speed can indicate many things beyond how "fit" someone is and should be considered as an alternative vital sign, Boudreaux added.

For example, walking speed may affect heart health, life expectancy, ability to perform activities of daily living, cognitive function, and even disability status.,length%20of%20time%20they%20walked.

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