More Steps Linked to Lower Risk of Diabetes and Hypertension, Study Finds

More Steps Linked to Lower Risk of Diabetes and Hypertension, Study Finds

New research suggests walking more is associated with better health. Here’s how to optimize your next stroll.

When it comes to physical activity, regular exercise is best for a bunch of reasons, from improved weight control to a lower risk for heart disease and some cancers. But if you’re finding it hard to squeeze in your routine walk, you’re far from alone. Even the most dedicated walkers miss a session sometimes. 

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Every little bit of exercise helps. In fact, in one study of more than 1,900 middle-aged adults presented at a March 2020 American Heart Association conference, women had a 13 percent lower obesity risk with every additional 1,000 steps they took daily. What’s more, compared to those who walked the least, men and women who took the most daily steps had a 31 percent lower risk of high blood pressure—and a 43 percent lower diabetes risk. 

So, take that walk whenever you can. Divide your 30-minute walks into three 10-minute sessions, if it helps you fit them in. And for extra health perks? Try picking up the pace. 

The need for speed
Research suggests that people who walk faster enjoy more health benefits than those who walk at a more casual speed. For example, in one 2018 analysis of more than 50,000 walkers in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, those who reported walking at an average pace were 20 percent less likely to die after an average of 9.2 years than those who reported walking more slowly. People who walked at a brisk or fast pace had a 24 percent lower risk of death. Pace likely mattered less for people who were younger, already physically fit or doing other exercise.

Walking quickly may boost your cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), as well, which is how your heart and lungs perform during physical activity. In fact, a 2018 study of about 122,000 patients in JAMA Network Open found that the better a subject’s CRF, the lower their risk of dying over a median 8.4-year follow-up period. While elite performers had the highest survival probability, even people with below-average CRF fared significantly better than those in the lowest CRF group. 

So, even if you miss a few walks, don’t give up on your routine altogether. And when you do walk, try moving a little faster. Your heart will thank you.

Medically reviewed in December 2019. Updated in March 2020.

MedlinePlus. “Benefits of Exercise.”
American Heart Association. “More steps-per-day linked to significant reductions in diabetes and high blood pressure.” March 5, 2020.
E Stamatakis, P Kelly, et al. “Self-rated walking pace and all-cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality: individual participant pooled analysis of 50 225 walkers from 11 population British cohorts.” British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2018;52:761-768.
Harvard Health Publishing. “Walking: Your steps to Health.”
R Ross, SN Blair, et al. “Importance of Assessing Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Clinical Practice: A Case for Fitness as a Clinical Vital Sign.” Circulation. 2016;134:e653–e699.
J Nauman, AB Moien, et al. “Walking in the Fast Lane: High-Intensity Walking for Improved Fitness and Health Outcomes.” Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Volume 94, Issue 12, 2378 – 2380.
K Mandsager, S Harb, et al. “Association of Cardiorespiratory Fitness With Long-term Mortality Among Adults Undergoing Exercise Treadmill Testing.” JAMA Network Open. 2018;1(6):e183605.

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