About 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes. Estimates suggest a similar number of people have high blood pressure. Unfortunately, those numbers don’t seem to be getting any smaller.
But new research is adding onto an already robust pile of evidence showing that one of the best defenses against these conditions, and many more, is cheap, relatively easy, and rather accessible: walking.
General recommendations suggest getting about 10,000 steps per day can offer some major benefits. But recent research indicates between 4,000 and 8,000 can have a significant impact on heart disease risk.
The study found that getting 4,000–8,000 steps per day could cut the risk of heart disease by nearly two-thirds and that getting 12,000 slashes the risk by almost 90%.
Another study, presented in early March at an American Heart Association conference, showed that the more a middle-aged person walked, the less likely they were to get diabetes or experience high blood pressure.
For this study, the average age of participants was 45 and the follow-up period was about 9 years. Those who took the most steps per day had a 43% lower risk of diabetes and a 31% lower risk of high blood pressure.
This point can’t be stressed enough: walk more if you are capable. The walking doesn’t have to be intense; it can be as simple as sauntering around your home during television commercial breaks or going up and down the stairs sporadically during the day.
If you’re taking more intense steps, for example, hills or stairs, you’ll probably experience the benefits at the lower end of the scale. If the steps are largely flat surfaces, 8,000 may be required. This simply has to do with how hard the body has to work for those steps.
Walking can help relax blood vessels to improve resting blood pressure. When blood is pumping and getting where it needs to go, vein health is likely to improve.
For diabetics, an immediate impact of walking is blood sugar control. Research has shown that a 30-minute walk following a meal can significantly lower blood sugar.
If you’re able, the key is finding more ways to work walking into your daily routine. Some suggestions include:
- Walking to run errands
- Pacing at home during phone calls (the other night I added 4,000 to my daily total doing this)
- Walking with a friend (socially distancing)
- Walking during commercial breaks
- Tracking steps