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Speed Walking can Increase Diabetes Health Outcomes

by  David Mendosa
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Talking about walking, I kept saying, “It’s the deed, not the speed”. I must have said or written that more times than Johnnie Cochran ever said about gloves, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”.

Now, however, I don’t think either saying is right. It’s too late for Johnnie, but I take mine back.

No matter how slowly we walk, a leisurely pace has to be better for our bodies than sitting in front of a computer monitor. When it comes to exercise, some is better than none.

We may be walking long enough, but most of us don’t walk fast enough. The latest physical activity guidelines for people with type 2 diabetes recommend 150 minutes of exercise per week.

But these guidelines say that our walking needs to be at least “of moderate intensity.” This means 40 to 60 percent of our VO2max or 50 to 70 percent of our maximum heart rate. Our VO2max is the highest rate at which we can use oxygen during exercise. Few of us can determine that without professional help. But heart rate monitors would tell us whether we are in the moderate intensity zone, if we would use them.

Researchers accept that a walking speed of 4 kilometers per hour – 2.5 miles per hour –defines moderately intense physical activity. We don’t walk that fast.

Steven Johnson and his associates at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, show that people with type 2 diabetes naturally walk an average speed of 3.3 kilometers per hour – just over 2 miles per hour. This is slower than we need to get health benefits, they say in a subsequent article.

Steve sent me both articles. The most recent one just appeared in the July 2006 issue of Diabetes Care and persuaded me that the intensity of the exercise is every bit as important as how often and how long we work out.

The title of the new article, “Walking Faster,” is so straightforward that it is the exception in a professional journal like Diabetes Care. Their solution is equally straightforward. They use pedometers and stopwatches and a little training of the people in their program for them to pick up the pace. Some pedometers measure elapsed time as well as the number of steps you take.

It worked for them and can work for all of us. Typically, we need to go about 20 percent faster. My initial goal is to pick up my pace by 10 percent, according to my pedometer, and I intend soon to build up to the recommended speed.

This seems consistent with Steve’s approach. “Our work has focused on a stepped approach (please excuse the pun) to active living,” he told me. From now on it is the deed and the speed.