Even a little bit of exercise can have big gains.
Taking a few moments for a walk each day is enough to lower the risk of diabetes in high-risk people who don't regularly exercise, according to a new study.
The University of Washington and University of Pittsburgh researchers found that "modest levels of physical activity are associated with a lower risk of incident diabetes, compared with lower levels of activity," they wrote in the journal Diabetes Care.
The study included 1,826 people from Native American communities who wore pedometers for a week. The study participants had an average body mass index of 32, which signifies obesity, News-Medical reported.
Researchers found that about 25 percent of the people took fewer than 3,500 steps per day, and about 50 percent of the people took fewer than 7,800 steps per day, Reuters reported. (There are about 2,000 steps in a mile.)
People who walked the most in the study had a 29 percent lower risk of diabetes compared to those who walked the least, Reuters reported. And the beneficial effects were seen even among people who took just 3,500 steps a day -- 12 percent of people who walked this much each day developed diabetes by the end of the study period, compared with 17 percent of people who walked the least in the study, according to Reuters.
News-Medical pointed out that people who walked between 5,400 and 7,799 steps each day had a 26 percent lower risk of diabetes compared with people who walked less than 3,500 steps. And people who walked 7,800 or more steps each day had a 23 percent lower risk of diabetes.
This is definitely not the first time walking has been shown to ward off diabetes. An Australian study in the journal BMJ last year showed that simply increasing the amount you walk each day could have powerful effects in maintaining sensitivity to insulin -- which could thereby ward off diabetes, MedPage Today reported.
According to the American Diabetes Association, people should aim to walk about 5 miles, or 10,000 steps, per day. As a strategy to increase the amount of time you walk each day, the ADA recommends starting with a comfortable pace -- it can be as little as 10 minutes a day -- and then gradually adding more time every week, until you get to about 30 to 45 minutes per day.
For more great health benefits of walking, click through the slideshow:
It May Help Prevent Obesity
If you're prone to being obese, spending just one hour going for a brisk walk may reduce your genetic influence by half. That's the finding from a Harvard School of Public Health Study <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/15/walking-obesity-genetic_n_1345224.html" target="_hplink">that was recently presented</a> at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism 2012 Scientific Sessions. "In our study, a brisk one-hour daily walk reduced the genetic influence towards obesity, measured by differences in BMI by half," study researcher Qibin Qi, Ph.D. <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/emb_releases/2012-03/aha-wml030912.php" target="_hplink">said in a statement</a>. "On the other hand, a sedentary lifestyle marked by watching television four hours a day increased the genetic influence by 50 percent." Not only is it helpful to get moving from behind your desk -- it might be <em>harmful</em> to stay slumped over your computer instead.
It Reduces 'Bad' Cholesterol And Increases 'Good' Cholesterol
Research consistently shows that a simple walking plan can help reduce LDL cholesterol -- the damaging kind, associated with heart disease -- and increase HDL cholesterol, which is associated with heart health. <a href="http://www.bidmc.org/YourHealth/HealthResearchJournals.aspx?ChunkID=414029" target="_hplink">One study</a> in middle aged men found that walking enough to burn 300 calories per day was associated with a significant reduction in the total cholesterol/HDL ratio, which is an indication of better cardiovascular function. The walking plan was also effective in lowering damaging triglycerides.
It Lowers Body Fat
Even if you aren't genetically predisposed to obesity, you can still benefit from the weight regulating properties of walking. Walking at least 10,000 steps a day was associated with lower body fat percentage and lower overall weight, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/16/extra-walking-muscle-strength_n_1154874.html" target="_hplink">according to a recent Canadian study</a> of women, ages 50 to 70 years. In the study of 57 women, those who walked more than 10,000 steps were the only group to have a normal BMI of an average 25. Those who walked fewer than 7,500 steps and those who walked between 7,500 and 10,000 steps were, on average, overweight. But while walking may have an effect on overall body mas, if it's muscle tone, balance or agility you're after, the study found that even 10,000 steps wasn't sufficient.
It Reduces Fatigue
People with fatigue who also lead sedentary lifestyles reported getting a 20 percent energy boost and a 65 percent reduction in fatigue after following a low-intensity exercise program that involved walking, according to a 2008 University of Georgia study. And more, recently, walking was shown to help mitigate the profound fatigue felt by those who were recovering from serious illness, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/walking-fatigue-cancer_n_1403757.html" target="_hplink">reported </a>HuffPost's Amanda L. Chan: <blockquote>The new research shows that an activity as simple as walking could help to lessen this fatigue. The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons included 102 people who had just had surgery done for their pancreatic or periampullary cancers. Eighty-five percent of them reported having fatigue at a moderate to severe level. </blockquote>
It Improves Mood
The benefits of walking extend beyond the physical. Just 30 minutes of strolling a day has been associated with mood improvement among depressed patients. In fact, thanks to the endorphins released during exercise, <a href="http://www.arthritistoday.org/fitness/walking/tips-and-strategies/mental-benefits-of-walking.php" target="_hplink">the study</a> -- published in the <em>British Journal of Sports Medicine</em> -- revealed that walking worked faster than antidepressants.