August 18, 2022

Researchers have known for a while that engaging in more moderate to vigorous physical activity — think gardening or brisk walking on up to fast swimming or running — is linked with a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes.

A recent study, however, is one of the first to examine how daily step counts might be associated with diabetes risk.

After analyzing data from more than 6,000 adults in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos, researchers concluded that adults who accumulate more steps per day may have a lower risk of diabetes.

Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore

Dr. Carmen Cuthbertson

Dr. Carmen Cuthbertson

Carmen Cuthbertson, PhD, the study’s lead author was previously a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Epidemiology at the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. Her co-authors from the Gillings School are Christopher Moore, MS, doctoral student of epidemiology; Daniela Sotres-Alvarez, DrPH, associate professor of biostatistics; Kelly Evenson, PhD, senior author and professor of epidemiology, and Gerardo Heiss, PhD, former W.R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of epidemiology, who passed away in June 2022.

The average age of the adults studied was 39 years, and these adults averaged 8,164 steps/day. They also spent an average of 12 minutes/day at a brisk walk or faster movement (at speeds more than 100 steps/minute).

Daniela Sotres-Alvarez

Daniela Sotres-Alvarez

Dr. Kelly Evenson

Dr. Kelly Evenson

The researchers noted that adults who spent at least 17 minutes/day walking briskly or moving at faster speeds — compared to less than 2 minutes/day — had a 31% lower risk of diabetes, and even greater amounts of brisk stepping was associated with further risk reduction.

The study team also found that adults who were already at high risk for diabetes, including older adults, people with obesity and people with prediabetes, received the most risk reduction from walking more steps per day.

Dr. Gerardo Heiss

Dr. Gerardo Heiss

“Our purpose with this study was to understand the number of steps per day associated with a lower risk of diabetes,” Cuthbertson said. “We focused on steps per day because they are easy to understand and track and the concept is familiar to many people because of the widespread use of activity trackers and smartphones. Our results suggest that there is a 2% lower risk of diabetes for every 1,000 steps taken.”

“Many activity trackers nudge you upon reaching 10,000 steps per day. At that level of stepping, we estimated a 13% lower risk of diabetes,” she added. “We also found that walking at a brisk walk pace or faster was especially beneficial for lowering the risk of diabetes. Our message is that people should take as many steps as possible throughout the day at any walk pace, trying to work in a brisk walk for part of the day to gain the greatest benefit.”

Read the full paper at the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.


Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@unc.edu.

Recent News