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Pick Up Your Walking Speed to Boost Your Health

< Oct. 10, 2012 > -- Which do you prefer - a casual stroll around the block or a vigorous walking workout? If you want to help prevent metabolic syndrome, often a precursor for type 2 diabetes and heart disease, you should go with choice No. 2.

That's the conclusion of Danish researchers who followed more than 10,000 adults for up to a decade.

For the study, published this week in the journal BMJ Open, researchers at Bispebjerg University Hospital in Copenhagen enlisted Danish adults ages 21 to 98, assessing them between 1991 and 1994. At that point, about 20 percent of the women and 27 percent of the men had metabolic syndrome.

Syndrome raises risk

Metabolic syndrome refers to a combination of health factors - high blood pressure, high blood sugar and blood fat levels, and excessive belly fat. These factors raise the risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke.

At the beginning of the study, participants who were the least active were the most likely to have metabolic syndrome. Nearly a third of inactive women and about 37 percent of inactive men had the syndrome, compared with 10 percent of physically active women and about 14 percent of physically active men.

Activity cuts risk

Researchers then followed the participants for up to 10 years. By the end of the study, about 15 percent of the people who didn't have metabolic syndrome in the beginning had developed it. Here's how the syndrome tied into physical activity: About 19 percent of inactive people ended up with metabolic syndrome, but only 12 percent of those who were very physically active developed it.

When researchers looked more closely at the type of exercise, they found that intensity had a greater impact than length of time exercising. Fast walking cut the risk by 50 percent, and jogging cut the risk by 40 percent. Going for an hour-long walk each day did not make any difference.

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Walking for Better Health

Try these walking techniques to help you get off on the right foot:

  • Wear comfortable, supportive walking shoes.

  • Warm up for five minutes by walking at a slow, easy pace. At the end of a brisk walk, cool down for five minutes in the same way.

  • Avoid overly long strides. Instead, use small, quick steps to prevent injury.

  • Land on your heel with each step, roll your foot from heel to toes, then push off with your toes.

  • Pull in your abdominal and buttocks muscles as you walk.

  • Walk with your head up, chin level, chest up, and shoulders back.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

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BMJ Open - Intensity versus duration of physical activity

CDC - More People Walk to Better Health

Weight-control Information Network - Get Moving!