Simply taking more steps a day not only wards off obesity but also reduces the risk of diabetes, according to a new study by Australian researchers.
The study, published today on bmj.com, is the first to estimate the beneficial effects of long-term changes in daily step count against reduced insulin sensitivity - an early stage marker in the development of diabetes.
It found study participants who increased their step count from below 1000 steps a day to at least 10,000 steps a day (about 8km) over a five year period had a 10 per cent improvement in insulin sensitivity. Men also lost an average of 2.5kg while women dropped 2kg.
Lead researcher Professor Terry Dwyer, of the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, said the finding showed a simple activity like walking, combined with weight loss, had a marked effect on insulin sensitivity.
"What this means is that increasing physical activity to 10,000 steps a day could significantly reduce the risk of developing diabetes," Professor Dwyer said.
"These findings provide further support to promote higher physical activity levels among adults."
At the start of the study, participants completed a detailed diet and lifestyle questionnaire and underwent a thorough health examination. They were also given a pedometer and instructed how to use it. Participants were monitored again five years later.
A higher daily step count over five years was associated with a lower body mass index, lower waist to hip ratio, and better insulin sensitivity. These associations were independent of dietary energy intake and appeared to be largely due to a change in adiposity (fatness) over the five years.
Current international step count guidelines vary. A popular guideline is to do 10,000 steps every day, though a more recent recommendation is 3000 steps, five days a week. The results of this study suggest that the person who follows the 10,000 step guideline would do much better. It found that a sedentary person who increased their activity to the 10,000 daily step guideline had a threefold improvement in insulin sensitivity compared with a similar person who increased his or her steps to meet the more recent recommendation of 3,000 steps.