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Taking 10,000 Steps a Day May Lower Diabetes Risk

Study Shows Building Up to 10,000 Steps a Day May Lead to Weight Loss and Better Insulin Sensitivity
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

woman walking in park

Jan. 14, 2011 -- Building up to 10,000 steps a day can help control weight and may reduce diabetes risk, suggests new research in the journal BMJ.

Of 592 middle-aged Australian adults, those who increased the number of steps they took during a five-year period and built up to 10,000 steps per day had a lower body mass index, less belly fat, and better insulin sensitivity than their counterparts who did not take as many steps daily during the same time period.

A hallmark of diabetes, insulin resistance occurs when the body's cells stop responding as well to the action of the hormone insulin, which helps the body use blood sugar (glucose) for energy. The pancreas tries to compensate by producing more insulin, but ultimately fails to keep pace. As a result, excess glucose builds up in the bloodstream, setting the stage for diabetes.

Weight loss is known to increase insulin sensitivity, so researchers suggest that increased walking led to weight loss and decreased body fat which, in turn, improved diabetes risk factors.

“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,” conclude researchers, who were led by Terry Dwyer, MD, director of Murdoch Children’s Research Institute of Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Australia. “The use of a pedometer for measuring physical activity allows quantification of the magnitude of these effects.”

Participants answered questions about their diet and other lifestyle factors and had a full physical exam when the study began. They were also asked to wear pedometers to count the number of steps they took each day. Researchers followed up with the study participants five years later to see how many steps they were taking, and reassessed their diabetes risk factors.

Those who built up to 10,000 steps a day and kept at it showed a threefold improvement in their insulin sensitivity at five years, when compared with participants who only increased their daily steps to 3,000 per day, the study showed.

“Enormous Implications”

“This is an interesting article, and the implication is theoretically enormous,” says Gerald Bernstein, MD, the director of the Diabetes Management Program at the Friedman Diabetes Institute at Beth Isreal Medical Center in New York City.

“Activity of daily living or moving more has a positive effect on insulin sensitivity, which is a big problem in people with diabetes and prediabetes,” he says.

“There is a real basis to the science from the test tube to the real world that if you move around, you do something good in terms of insulin,” he says. “Insulin production and sensitivity deteriorates with age, so over five years we don’t expect things to be as good as they were during that first year. The fact that insulin sensitivity had improved or sustained itself in the new study is important because a period of time had passed.

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