Changing Your Walking Pace Can Help You Live Longer, New Study Shows

It slashes your risk of diabetes by more than a third.

Along with your diet, your exercise habits are at the very foundation of your health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), getting a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week is one of the best ways to stave off chronic illness and improve your overall well-being. Until recently, many people perceived this as meaning that you must hit the gym to stay healthy by the CDC's standards. However, a new wave of research is highlighting how even everyday movement such as walking can overhaul your health for the better.

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One influential 2023 study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that walking just under 4,000 steps per day is linked with enhanced longevity. Every additional 1,000 steps the study subjects took on top of that baseline led to an additional 15 percent reduction in the study subjects' all-cause mortality risk.

Now, a new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine is looking beyond step count to better understand how your pace of walking affects your risk of chronic illness—in particular, your risk of Type 2 diabetes.

To understand how walking speed might influence health outcomes, the researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 10 cohort studies conducted between 1999 and 2022. They collected data from 508,121 adult patients from the U.S., the U.K., and Japan.

The researchers then grouped and compared various walking speeds to assess the relationship between those habits and the likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes. The most striking results occurred when subjects walked at a pace of over 3.7 miles per hour (mph). This walking speed resulted in a shocking 39 percent reduction in diabetes risk.

The team also found that there were incremental benefits to walking faster, even when subjects stopped short of that goal. People who walked at a pace between 3.1mph and 3.7 mph saw a 24 percent risk reduction. Those who walked at a pace between 1.8mph and 3.1mph were 15 percent less likely to develop diabetes than people who walked at a pace lower than 1.8mph.

RELATED: Walking for Just 2 Minutes Can Improve Your Health—If You Do It at the Right Time of Day.

A separate 2023 study from experts at the University of Cambridge and the University of Glasgow highlights how developing diabetes can curb your longevity significantly. They note that diabetes is linked with a spate of other serious chronic illnesses, including heart attack and stroke, kidney problems, and certain types of cancer.

In fact, their research found that being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at age 30 can reduce your life expectancy by up to 14 years. Those diagnosed at age 40 experienced a 10-year reduction in lifespan, and those diagnosed at age 50 experienced a six-year reduction in lifespan compared with people who did not develop diabetes.

Those experts say that preventing or delaying the onset of diabetes should be among your top health priorities. Though your doctor may recommend other interventions including dietary changes, medication, and quitting smoking, walking more frequently—and at a quicker clip—can also help slash your risk.

"Walking is cost-free, simple and for most people can be integrated into regular activities like getting to work, shopping and visiting friends," said Neil Gibson, senior physical activity advisor for Diabetes U.K., via news release. "While progressing to a faster pace is usually recommended for greater health gains, it's important that people walk at a pace that they can manage and is suitable for them."

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Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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