Take A Stroll

Walking Linked To Lower Type 2 Diabetes Risk — If You Go This Fast

Walking is great for your health. Walking quickly is even better.

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A man walking his dog by a lake.
Ariela Basson/Fatherly; Shutterstock

Walking is perhaps the most underrated form of exercise — it’s easy to fit into small breaks during your day, doesn’t have to make you break a sweat, and yet is powerful enough to lengthen your life. But new research shows that the speed you walk is crucial when it comes to reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes.

For the meta-analysis study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers analyzed the available evidence on walking speed and risk of type 2 diabetes. This included 10 studies that monitored a total of more than 500,000 participants from the U.S., Japan, and the UK for anywhere from three to 11 years.

They found that compared to casual walking (less than 3.2 km/hr, or 2 miles/hr), walking at an average or normal walking speed of 3-5 km/hr (or 2-3 miles per hour) was linked to a 15% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes — regardless of time spent walking.

Additionally, the researchers found that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes drops considerably when people walk at least 4 km/hr (about 2.5 miles/hour) — about 87 steps per minute for men and 100 steps per minute for women, depending on stride length. And for every 1 km/hr (0.6 mile/hr) faster than 4 km/hr, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes decreases by 9%.

"Increasing the walking pace not only increases your heart rate but also increases your muscle contractions. That can help improve insulin sensitivity, which is very important for the prevention of diabetes,” Frank Hu, M.D., chair of the nutrition department at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who wasn’t part of the study, told NBC News.

Although the study can’t prove that faster walking causes people to not develop type 2 diabetes, it does suggest that you should pick up the pace on your walks, even if that means you spend less time walking overall.

However, “don’t take this as ‘if you’re not walking fast enough, it’s not working.’ That’s definitely not what’s in this paper. To do something is better than nothing,” Jochen Kressler, Ph.D., a professor of exercise and nutritional sciences at San Diego State University, who wasn’t involved in the study, told NBC News. After all, the study didn’t analyze the risk of developing type 2 diabetes for people who walk slowly compared to those who don’t walk at all.

The American Diabetes Association recommends getting at least 10,000 steps per day, or walking for at least 30 minutes lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.

“It is also important to remember that even if you walk slowly or quickly for 30 minutes every day, you should take additional walking breaks throughout the day to reduce the negative health risks of prolonged sitting,” Benjamin Boudreaux, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow of physical activity and epidemiology at Columbia University's Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health, who was not involved in the study, told Health.

The study authors note that there are some limitations to their meta-analysis, including that seven of the ten studies they included had a serious risk of bias and three had a moderate risk, largely because they didn’t adequately adjust for potential confounding factors. People who walked faster might already have better heart health and be more active, muscular, and overall more healthy.

If you’re looking for more ways to help prevent type 2 diabetes, avoid eating too much salt, which has been linked to diabetes risk, and try eating breakfast before 8 a.m., which is linked to a lower risk. Be sure to eat a diet full of fiber-rich foods such as fruits, non-starchy vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, and foods that lower your blood sugar like eggs, salmon, and almonds.

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