Does brisk walking break down your blood glucose faster and lower your risk of Type 2 diabetes? A recent research paper, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, says that the pace of walking is far more beneficial than how long you walk. Not only that, it quantified the percentage of risk reduction with walking speeds.
WHAT THE STUDY SAYS
“Notably, walking at speeds of 4 km/hour or more is linked to a significantly lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. The study further quantifies this relationship, indicating that for each additional 1 km/h increase in walking speed above 4 km/h, there’s a corresponding nine per cent decrease in diabetes risk,” says functional medicine expert and celebrity coach Vijay Thakkar. Comparing walking speeds, the study says that walking at an average speed of 3-5 km/hour is associated with a 15 per cent reduced risk of diabetes compared to slower speeds. This risk reduction becomes more pronounced at higher speeds. For instance, walking at a relatively brisk pace of 5–6 km/h correlates with a 24 per cent lower risk, and striding at speeds above 6 km/h is linked with a 39 per cent reduced risk.
An interesting aspect of this study is its emphasis on the importance of walking speed, independent of the duration of the activity. This suggests that the intensity of physical activity, in this case represented by the speed of walking, is a crucial factor in reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes, irrespective of the total time spent walking.
STUDY IMPLICATIONS ON OUR HEALTH
“We all know that physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour limit the muscle’s ability to utilise glucose and results in decreased muscle mass and fat accumulation, which triggers development of diabetes. Walking, in that sense, emerges as a very doable option” says Dr Richa Chaturvedi, Senior Consultant, Endocrinology, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi. Faster walking speed is associated with better cardiorespiratory fitness and muscle strength. Brisk walking also helps with weight loss, which can improve insulin sensitivity. “This study offers valuable insights into the role of walking speed in diabetes prevention and lays the groundwork for devising walking regimens,” says Thakkar.
HOW TO CREATE YOUR OWN WALKING PLAN?
The big question is whether the speed indicated in the study can work for everyone. “For example, walking at a pace of 6 km per hour is akin to circling a football field four times in 15 minutes. This is associated with the most significant risk reduction. However, ability should be matched by individual capacity, fitness levels, health conditions and age. Identifying the ideal pace involves balancing effectiveness and feasibility,” advises Dr Chaturvedi.
The goal, she says, should be achievable and instill confidence in the walker rather than tiring them out. “Consulting a healthcare professional based on an individual’s specific health status and capabilities is a must,” she says.
Thakkar suggests a gradual buildup to a routine rather than a sudden acceleration. First, one can increase their daily step counts by 1,000 every week, he says. In-home walking routines, like moving around in the house after meals, particularly post-dinner walks, help in glucose utilisation. “For the beginner, we always advise starting slow and then working up. Once settled into a rhythm, try to reach 150 minutes of moderate-intensity walking each week. Set doable goals to encourage you to continue. Sometimes varying pace at intervals, like walking fast for a while and slowing down could help with heart rate variability and increase insulin resistance,” Thakkar adds.
WHY MORE STUDIES ARE REQUIRED?
One must contextualise these findings within a broader health and wellness perspective.“The evidence is characterised as low to moderate in certainty, primarily due to potential biases in the included studies. This points to a need for further research.” In the end, he argues, there has to be an integrated approach to health, combining exercise with mindful eating and other lifestyle choices.