This Is How Fast You Should Walk to Lower Your Diabetes Risk, According to a New Study

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Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

Fact checked by Nick Blackmer

Key Takeaways

  • A new study shows faster waking speeds can significantly lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.

  • Experts say a faster pace increases the intensity of physical activity, which can lower insulin resistance, a factor that can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.

  • A good way to track your speed or measure intensity is to use the “talk test.” This test assesses whether you can comfortably hold a conversation while walking, but without being able to sing.

Walking has many proven health benefits—from warding off heart disease and reducing blood pressure to improving balance. A new study adds another perk to the list: diabetes risk reduction. But you have to walk fast enough to reap the benefit.

The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, shows that picking up the pace when walking could significantly lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. Specifically, people who maintained a habitual walking speed of 2.5 miles per hour (mph) or faster—about 24 minutes per mile—decreased their chances of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.

“Our findings suggest that 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,” lead study author Ahmad Jayedi, PhD, a research assistant at the Social Determinants of Health Research Center at Semnan University of Medical Sciences in Iran, told Verywell in an email.

Here’s how walking speed can impact diabetes risk and effective methods to track your own pace, according to experts.

Fast Speed, Greater Benefits

Jayedi and his colleagues analyzed data from 10 studies that involved more than 500,000 people from the U.S., Japan, and the U.K. who reported their walking habits.

The researchers defined walking speed as the following:

  • Easy or casual walking: less than 2 mph

  • Average or normal walking: 2 to 3 mph

  • Fairly brisk walking: 3 to 4 mph

  • Brisk or striding walking: greater than 4 mph

Regardless of step count or distance, participants who walked at a normal walking speed, or an average of 2 to 3 mph, had a 15% lower risk of type 2 diabetes compared with people who walked at a slower pace (under 2 mph).

Participants who walked at a fairly brisk pace, ranging between 3 to 4 mph, had an even bigger decrease in their risk of type 2 diabetes compared to a slower-paced walk or leisurely stroll at 24%. Once they clocked in at over 4 mph, the diabetes risk reduction improved to 39%.

“There is no specific instruction for gait speed in current guidelines,” said Jayedi. “Our results provide some support for the incorporation of walking speed into physical activity guidelines.”

How Slowly Can You Walk to Still Lower Your Diabetes Risk?

The study findings showed that the slowest walking speed to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes was approximately 2.49 mph, translating to 87 steps per minute for males and 100 steps per minute for females.

Why Increasing Walking Speed May Help Lower Diabetes Risk

One of the main reasons why walking at a faster pace can lower diabetes risk is because higher walking speeds engage more muscle groups and elevate the heart rate. This can improve insulin sensitivity, which is an important aspect in managing blood sugar levels, Pouya Shafipour, MD, board-certified family and obesity medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, told Verywell.

Typically, staying active boosts insulin sensitivity, enabling the cells of the body to use blood glucose more effectively. This ultimately reduces blood sugar levels. Insulin, a hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels, plays an important role in this process.

Related: How Fast Do You Need to Walk For a Healthy Heart?

Moreover, Priya Jaisinghani, MD, endocrinologist and obesity medicine specialist at NYU Langone Health, emphasizes that faster walking speed raises the intensity of physical activity. This increase in intensity can notably lower insulin resistance, a key factor associated with the development of type 2 diabetes.

“Moderate-intensity physical activity has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and lower insulin resistance,” Jaisinghani said. “Moderate-intensity aerobic activity includes brisk walking at least 2.5 miles per hour.”

It’s important to note while this study highlighted the potential benefits of faster walking speeds, people should engage in any amount of walking they can tolerate regardless of the speed, Jaisinghani said.

“Some exercise is better than no exercise,” she said.

What to Start Walking Faster

An adequate walking speed will vary based on your fitness level, age, and overall health. Consider starting at about 3 miles per hour (20-minute miles) and gradually increase your pace as you get more comfortable and your fitness levels improve.

“Start at 3 miles per hour and take it from there,” Shafipour said. “Try walking two blocks fast and one block slow to let the heart recover and to challenge yourself.”

Other Benefits Linked to Good Walking Speed

According to Jaisinghani, exercise such as brisk walking benefits your heart, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. It can even strengthen your bones and immune system.

“[Exercise] can also help improve your mental health, mood, sleep, and cognition,” she said.

The American Heart Association says walking at a lively pace may help reduce the risk of serious diseases like heart disease, stroke, and several types of cancer. Additionally, brisk walking can increase your energy and stamina, improve memory, reduce the risk of dementia, and prevent weight gain.

Related: Can a 3-Minute Exercise Burst Lower Your Cancer Risk?

How to Track Your Walking Speed

A good rule of thumb for monitoring pace is to use the talk test, which is a simple way to measure relative intensity.

“According to the CDC talk test, you can tell you’re walking briskly (about 3 miles an hour) if you can still talk but cannot sing while walking,” Jaisinghani said.

Besides using the talk test, there are several other methods you can use to track your walking speed, including mobile walking speed apps, smart watches, fitness bands, and online mapping tools. Walking on the treadmill makes it easy to monitor miles per hour, too.

What This Means For You

Walking at a pace of at least 2.5 miles per hour or faster can significantly reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. To track your walking speed, consider using the “talk test” or other methods like mobile apps, fitness bands, and smartwatches.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.