Walking to work’ associated with a reduced risk of diabetes

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Many of you will be familiar with the concept of the ‘diabetes timebomb’ ” an explosion of diabetes we are seeing as a result of our supposedly increasingly unhealthy lifestyle habits. Health professionals often advise us, if we want to reduce our risk of diabetes, to moderate our weight with a low-fat diet. However, this assumes that fat is inherently fattening (which it isn’t) and that low-fat diets are effective for weight control (which they’re not). And anyway, let us not forget that diabetes is a condition characterised by a problem with handling carbohydrate (not fat). I advise those who want to take positive steps to quell their diabetes risk to concentrated on eating a natural, unprocessed diet, of low ‘glycaemic load’.

And while I’m on the subject of ‘taking positive steps’, I’d like to share with you the results of a study which assessed the effects of walking on risk of diabetes. Activity is believed to help insulin have its effect in the body. In other words, it reduces the risk of ‘insulin resistance’, which is a hallmark feature of type 2 diabetes.

In the study in question, published this month in the journal Diabetes Care, researchers followed some 8,600 Japanese men over a four-year period. All of these had sedentary jobs and were of similar socioeconomic background. At the start of the study, none of these men had a diagnosis of diabetes.

At the end of the four-year period of assessment, the researchers looked for any relationship between the length of time men spent walking to work, and risk of diabetes. It was found that men walking for 21 minutes or more each day, compared to those walking 10 minutes of less each day, were at a 27 per cent reduced risk of developing diabetes. And this reduction was statistically significant.

In ‘epidemiological’ studies of this nature it is never possible to know for sure that when two factors are associated, that one is causing the other. Basically, we don’t know whether it was the walking, or other factors associated with walking (such as generally healthier habits) that is led to a reduced risk of diabetes. However, the fact that the study subjects were all of similar socioeconomic background does strengthen the association between walking and diabetes risk, and suggests it might be the walking that did the trick.

As a big advocate of walking, I’m always pleased to see research such as this emerge. My experience is that most people can manage a half-hour walk most days without it disrupting their schedule. For some, it may be appropriate to walk to or from work, but others might find it easier and more practical to walk either before, after, or either side of lunch.

Yesterday, I was giving a presentation in Paris to a group of human resources professionals and was ‘bigging up’ walking. Most of the audience were women, and a scan of the room revealed a lot of footware that could make walking for more than a few minutes quite arduous. It’s easier for men, I think, to find ‘business shoes’ that are appropriate for a good yomp (softish rubber soles are key here, I think). However, in the City of London I’ve noticed a lot of women ‘power walking’ to or from work in training shoes that I suspect are swapped for something more ‘business appropriate’ one they’re in work.


Sato KK, et al. Walking to work is an independent predictor of incidence of type 2 diabetes in Japanese men: the Kansai Healthcare Study. Diabetes Care. 2007;30(9):2296-8.

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