The less you walk, the higher your risk for diabetes. Especially if you’re 65 or older.
However, new research shows that it might be possible for people in this age bracket to walk away from diabetes. The study shows that by taking more steps and increasing walking intensity, it might be possible to reduce diabetes risk.
How can walking help? Previous research shows that activity helps improve blood sugar levels and insulin response. When your muscles move, they need sugar to fuel them. The more you move, and the more intense those movements are, the more sugar (glucose) they need.
Your muscles store glycogen, and when it gets used, it needs to be replaced. Sedentary people, however, don’t really use much glycogen. When food is eaten and broken down into sugar (glucose), it has little choice but to stay in the blood if your cells are already full.
Put simply, walking helps increase glucose metabolism by creating a need for glycogen.
Older adults typically experience an overall metabolic slow down with age, which includes the speed at which they utilize glycogen.
The study looked at links between walking and diabetes risk. Researchers looked at more than 4,800 women, age 65 and older, who did not have diabetes and lived independently.
Each participant wore a device on their hip for 24 hours per day for one week that monitored their steps. They had their health monitored for seven years, and over that time, eight percent developed diabetes.
The magic number seemed to be 1,000. Results suggested that for every 1,000 steps per day, diabetes risk went down by six percent. So, if you were to take 2,000 extra steps per day, in addition to what you were already doing, you may drop your risk by 12 percent.
Most people, of course, move less as they age because of mobility or disability issues. But you don’t have to walk fast to get the benefit. All you need is the kind of intensity that makes breathing a little heavier – like it would be a challenge to hold a conversation.
For the average 70-80-year-old, this could be a single lap around the block.