How Many Steps to Walk Away From Diabetes?

When older people cut back on physical activity, their risk of type 2 diabetes rises. But walking regularly can help, a new study suggests.

The more steps you take — and the more intensely you walk — the lower your odds for type 2 diabetes, researchers found.

To assess the link between walking and diabetes risk, they enrolled more than 4,800 women, 65 and older, who did not have diabetes and lived independently.

For 24 hours a day for one week, the women wore a device on their hip that recorded the number of steps taken each day. The women’s health was monitored for up to seven years, and 8% developed diabetes during that time.

“A key figure from our study is that for every 1,000 steps per day, our results showed a 6% lower diabetes risk in this population,” said study co-author Alexis Garduno, a student in the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and San Diego State University joint doctoral program in public health.

“What that means is, if the average older adult were to take 2,000 more steps every day in addition to what they were already doing, they might expect a 12% reduction in diabetes risk,” Garduno added in a UCSD news release.

The study was published Jan. 20 in the journal Diabetes Care.

“If we estimate that one third of that population are older adults, that’s 500,000 older individuals who are newly diagnosed with diabetes every year. If all of them increase their steps by 2,000 steps per day and our 12% estimate is proven to be casual, we would expect 60,000 people each year to not get diabetes due to that increase in steps,” said co-author John Bellettiere, an assistant professor of epidemiology at UCSD.

Many adults aged 65 and older slow down because of mobility or disability issues.

But people who have mobility disability do not have to walk that far or that fast to engage in moderate to vigorous intensity activity, Bellettiere said.

“When we talk about moderate to vigorous intensity steps, we are talking about the kind of steps that cause you to breathe a little heavy and make it harder to engage in a conversation. For the average person aged 70 to 80, just walking around the block one time is moderate to vigorous intensity activity,” he explained.

Previous research has shown that regular physical activity, along with improved diet, reduces the risk of diabetes in adults. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week to reduce the risk of diabetes and other chronic diseases.

“It’s important, even if you have staved off diabetes, to keep with it and to incorporate regular stepping as part of your daily schedule and make it into a routine,” Garduno said.

“It’s not enough for somebody to go on a walk once a week. Our study indicates that regular stepping is indicative of lower diabetes risk in older adults,” Garduno said.

More information

There’s more on diabetes prevention at the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

SOURCE: University of California, San Diego, news release, Jan. 20, 2022