Counting Steps for Diabetes

Here at Diabetes Flashpoints, we’ve sometimes written about studies that cast doubt on[1] the effectiveness of mobile health apps and devices for people with diabetes. But according to a recent study, one type of device — a pedometer, which counts the number of steps you take throughout the day — seems to have measurable benefits for people with Type 2 diabetes[2].

Published last month in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, the study[3] looked at the effects of wearing a pedometer — along with getting a “prescription” for increasing the number of steps you take daily — in people with either Type 2 diabetes or hypertension[4] (high blood pressure), or both conditions. Study participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups: an active group in which they wore a pedometer, and a control group in which they were simply told to exercise for 30–60 minutes each day. For the pedometer group, doctors reviewed participants’ physical activity at each regular visit and tried to get them to increase their daily movement by 3,000 steps over the course of a year.


As noted in a Physician’s Briefing article on the study[5], participants in the pedometer group managed to increase their daily activity by 1,190 steps more than the control group, on average. This falls short of the 3,000-step increase that researchers targeted, but still represents a significant increase that has measurable effects on health. In fact, among participants with Type 2 diabetes, those in the pedometer group had an HbA1c[6] level (a measure of long-term blood glucose control) 0.38% lower, on average, than those in the control group. Among participants with Type 2 diabetes who didn’t take insulin[7], members of the pedometer group also scored lower on a measure of insulin resistance[8] than those in the control group.

While the results of this study might seem completely in favor of wearing a pedometer, it’s important to remember that participants were checked up on regularly and encouraged by their doctors to increase the number of steps they took — something that might not be easy to duplicate by buying and wearing a pedometer outside the context of a study. Still, the study suggests that doctors might encourage — or even prescribe — wearing a pedometer and taking more steps as a way to improve blood glucose control in people with Type 2 diabetes.

What’s your take on pedometers — would you, or do you, wear one to track your steps throughout the day? If you’ve tried one, do you find your device easy to wear, or is it annoying or distracting? Have you increased your daily physical activity by wearing a pedometer? If so, did this translate into better blood glucose control? Leave a comment below!

  1. cast doubt on:
  2. Type 2 diabetes:
  3. the study:
  4. hypertension:
  5. article on the study:
  6. HbA1c:
  7. insulin:
  8. insulin resistance:

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