Regular physical activity has a variety of known health benefits, including improving heart health and providing protection against Type 2 diabetes, but in today’s hectic world, it can be difficult to find the motivation to take up a formal exercise routine. Researchers in Australia, however, have found that increasing insulin sensitivity and staving off diabetes can be as simple as doing a bit more of something you’re already likely doing every day: walking.
The study, conducted at Murdoch Childrens Research Institute in Melbourne, looked at 592 middle-aged people taking part in a study to evaluate diabetes levels and risk factors in Australia from 2000 to 2005. At the start of the study, the participants, most of whom were overweight, completed a diet and lifestyle questionnaire and were given a thorough health examination. They were then given a pedometer, along with instruction on how to use it.
At the end of five years, the participants were reevaluated. It was found that a higher daily amount of walking was associated with a lower body-mass index and waist-to-hip ratio and better insulin sensitivity. These effects remained even after lifestyle factors such as diet, alcohol intake, and smoking were taken into account. They were also independent of daily calorie intake, and instead appeared to be associated with changes in adiposity (fat levels) related to the increased walking.
Although previous studies have shown that exercise interventions can reduce insulin resistance, this is the first study to show that real-life attempts to increase physical activity can be effective at improving insulin sensitivity.
The researchers suggested that a relatively inactive person who changed their behavior over the course of five years to reach the widely recommend goal of 10,000 steps per day would improve his insulin sensitivity threefold compared to someone who increased his walking to 3,000 steps five days a week. They concluded that “These findings, confirming an independent beneficial role of higher daily step count on body-mass index, waist-to-hip ratio, and insulin sensitivity, provide further support to promote higher physical activity levels among middle-aged adults.”
To learn more about the study, read the article “Taking More Steps Every Day Can Help Ward Off Diabetes” or see the study in the British Medical Journal. And if you need some added motivation to get moving, check out the article “Training for a Walkathon.”