Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, including simple activities such as walking, can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D). One of the first studies to examine the potential association between daily step counts and diabetes risk was published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.
Study: Associations of steps per day and step intensity with the risk of diabetes: the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL). Image Credit: Anna Moskvina / Shutterstock.com
Physical activity includes all movements that involve energy expenditure. Through a variety of biological mechanisms, physical activity reduces the risk of diabetes.
Engaging in higher degrees of physical activity may reduce adiposity, which is a risk factor for diabetes. Exercise also increases glucose uptake of the skeletal muscles, both acutely and chronically. Muscular functions like muscle contractions increase glucose transport into skeletal muscles from the blood through a mechanism that is independent of insulin.
Physical activity can vary in intensity, ranging from moderate to vigorous. Moderate physical activity, such as walking, is the most underrated form of exercise, as it confers impressive physical and mental health benefits.
According to the latest studies, regular walking, as defined by a higher number of steps each day, is associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality. Despite this, very little data is available on how the number of daily steps is linked to diabetes risk.
About the study
To this end, the current study examined the relationship between the number of steps taken each day and diabetes risk in the Hispanic Community Health Study or Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL). Between 2008 and 2017, 6,634 individuals participated in the population-based prospective HCHS/SOL.
Cox proportional hazard models were used to estimate the association between baseline accelerometer-measured steps each day and step intensity, as well as six-year incident diabetes risk as hazard ratios (HRs). The researchers also examined whether the proportion of intensive steps at a given number of steps each day was associated with diabetes risk and if these associations were affected by specific cohort characteristics.
In this group of Hispanic/Latino adults, taking more steps each day and engaging in brisk walks was correlated with a decreased risk of developing diabetes. In fact, every 1,000 steps taken each day over six years was found to reduce the risk of diabetes in adults by 2-3%.
An analysis of the dose-response data revealed that taking a greater number of steps each day resulted in a greater reduction in diabetes risk. A higher proportion of time spent at faster cadences (steps/minute) and a higher peak 30-minute cadence were also linked to a reduced risk of diabetes.
Accumulating the same number of steps each day with a higher proportion of intense steps led to a greater risk reduction than accruing the same number of steps each day with a lower proportion of intense steps.
Stronger associations between the daily number of steps and a reduced incidence of diabetes in adults at high risk for diabetes were observed, including among older adults as well as those with obesity and prediabetes. Of note, greater peak 30-minute and accelerated cadences were associated with a reduced likelihood of developing diabetes.
Taking a greater number of steps at a higher intensity was found to further reduce diabetes risk. Thus, the same number of steps, when taken with a higher step intensity, could further reduce the risk of diabetes.
Notably, diabetes risk was inversely associated with the number of steps taken each day, regardless of cohort characteristics. This association appeared to be particularly evident in older, obese, or pre-diabetic adults.
- Cuthbertson, C. C., Moore, C. C., Sotres-Alvarez, D., et al. (2022). Associations of steps per day and step intensity with the risk of diabetes: the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL). International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 19. doi:10.1186/s12966-022-01284-2