Walking is a good exercise for people of any age and is highly beneficial for people who have diabetes.
In fact, for diabetic people, physical activity is an important component in managing this chronic disease. If you stay fit and active, you’ll be better able to control your diabetes and keep your blood glucose level in the correct range.
Proper control of your blood glucose level is essential to preventing long-term complications, such as nerve pain and kidney disease.
When it comes to exercise for diabetic people, nothing is better than walking.
Walking is an aerobic exercise that helps your body use insulin better, an important factor in diabetes management.
Walking also makes your heart and bones strong, reduces your stress level, improves your blood circulation and reduces your risk for heart disease by regulating blood glucose and blood pressure levels and improving cholesterol levels.
Along with improving your physical health, walking can improve your psychological well-being and reduce your medical costs.
To top it off, walking is free, easy and you already know how to do it.
A 2012 study published in Nutrition & Diabetes analyzed 201 people with Type 2 diabetes and found that every additional 2,600 steps of walking each day was associated with a 0.2 percent lower A1c (1).
Earlier, a 2005 study published in Diabetes Care found that taking a three-mile daily walk helped reduce drug costs by $550 and other medical costs by $7 among people suffering from Type 2 diabetes (2).
In a 2012 study published in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, researchers examined the emotional effects of walking in individuals with Type 2 diabetes and found that 20-minute walks were associated with significant positive influences on psychological well-being (3).
Walking is not just beneficial for people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. It is equally beneficial for people with Type 1 diabetes, prediabetes and gestational diabetes.
A 2012 study published in Diabetes Care examined 12 patients with Type 1 diabetes over 88 hours and found taking a walk after meals significantly impacts postprandial glucose excursions (4).
Earlier in a 1999 analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers concluded that walking was strongly associated with a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes (5).
How Much Walking Do You Need?
Adults need 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours, per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity like brisk walking to stay healthy.
The American Diabetes Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate – to vigorous – intensity aerobic exercise at least 5 days a week (or a total of 150 minutes per week) for diabetic people (6).
Similarly, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases says that one should aim for 150 minutes of brisk walking per week (7).
To reach the target of 150 minutes per week, remember that you do not need to walk for 30 minutes at a time. You can break your activity into three 10-minute walks instead.
If you are diabetic and want to take up walking, there are certain things that you need to keep in mind.
Here are some useful walking tips for people who have diabetes.
1. Get into the Walking Habit
Walking is good for managing diabetes, but it does not mean you need to walk for hours. Make walking a part of your daily routine and slowly build up to walking at a brisk pace for 30 minutes most days of the week.
You can use a pedometer to count the number of steps you take each day, and gradually add more steps. This will give you a sense of satisfaction and encourage you to keep going.
The best time for a diabetic to walk is one to two hours after a meal, and morning is better than afternoon or evening.
Be sure to include a gentle warm-up period at the beginning and a cool-down at the end of each walking session.
You also need to move correctly when walking. The heel of your foot should hit the ground first when you take a stride, while the rest of the foot should contact the ground as you roll your weight forward. You should keep your chin up and your shoulders and back straight when you are walking.
You can make walking more fun if you do it with someone else. Plus, a walking buddy can help keep you motivated.
2. Sneak It In
You can add extra walking to your daily routine by making simple changes like:
- Walk around while you talk on the phone or during TV commercials.
- Include walking while doing small chores, such as working in the garden, raking leaves, cleaning the house or washing the car.
- Park at the far end of the parking lot so that you walk farther to reach your destination.
- Always try to take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Spend quality time with your family and friends by planning a bike ride or a walk in a park.
3. Check Your Blood Sugar Levels
Before you walk out the door, consider your blood sugar level. For people with Type 1 diabetes and people with Type 2 who take insulin or blood glucose-lowering medications, it is important to monitor your blood sugar level before exercising. This will help limit hypoglycemia.
You must check your blood sugar about 30 minutes before you start your walking session. If your blood sugar is below 120 mg/dl before working out, eat a low-fat snack that contains about 15 grams of carbohydrates, such as a piece of fruit.
Hold off on exercising if you have high or low blood sugar.
4. Choose the Right Shoes
When it comes to walking, always wear appropriate shoes. The right shoes will protect your feet and prevent developing blisters, ulcers or sores.
A 2004 study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases reports that diabetes is the leading cause of nontraumatic lower-extremity amputations in the United States. Most amputations are preceded by an ulcer (8).
Properly fitted athletic shoes will help prevent blisters and other injuries, such as plantar fasciitis. Buy shoes with a firm heel, solid arch support and thick flexible soles to cushion your feet and absorb any shock. The shoes should fit the shape of your feet.
You can also consult your doctor regarding what type of shoes can help protect your feet from common diabetes complications.
No matter what, even though walking barefoot has many benefits, people who have diabetes should avoid it.
5. Pick the Right Socks
Just like the right shoes, the right socks are also important for diabetic people to prevent blisters on the feet.
Avoid cotton socks, as they retain sweat and can cause blisters. Instead, wear athletic socks or diabetic socks made of sweat-wicking polyester fiber.
Apart from the material, the fit of your socks makes a difference. Get a pair of socks that fits well with the shape of your feet.
6. Carry Snacks and Water
If you are diabetic, it is recommended to drink a glass of water about one hour before it is time to walk. Also, drink a few sips of water every 20 minutes if you are walking for a while.
When you’re done walking, rest a bit and drink another glass of water.
Before you go out for a walk, do not forget to pack a healthy snack that you can carry with you. An apple or some oat biscuits are good examples. Snacks come in handy in case your blood sugar drops while you are walking.
To be safe, wear a medical identification bracelet or necklace and carry personal identification with you.
7. Check Your Feet Every Day
When you get home after walking, remove your shoes and closely check your feet daily. You must check the tops, sides, soles, heels and the area between the toes.
Even small sores or blisters can become big trouble if an infection develops or they do not heal properly.
A 2009 study published in Diabetic Medicine reports that a high prevalence of neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease, along with poor adherence to foot care practices, predisposes people with diabetes to foot problems (9).
Consult your doctor immediately if you discover any sores, redness, cuts, blisters or bruises.
8. Wash and Dry Your Feet
After you come home from your morning or evening walk, you must wash and clean your feet thoroughly. This will help keep your feet free of germs and other impurities, which can otherwise lead to infection.
Wash your feet using lukewarm water and a mild soap. Once or twice a week, use a pumice stone to accumulated dead skin or any corns and calluses. Always scrub your feet after a shower or bath when your skin is soft.
After you are done washing your feet, dry them thoroughly, especially between the toes.
- Abdominal adiposity and daily step counts as determinants of glycemic control in a cohort of patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Nutrition and Diabetes. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3302145/. Published January 2012.
- Make Your Diabetic Patients Walk. Diabetes Care. http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/28/6/1295.full. Published June 01, 2005.
- Acute effects of brisk walking on affect and psychological well-being in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21995867. Published January 2012.
- The Effect of Walking on Postprandial Glycemic Excursion in Patients With Type 1 Diabetes and Healthy People. Diabetes Care. http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/35/12/2493. Published December 01, 2012.
- Walking Compared With Vigorous Physical Activity and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Women. JAMA Internal Medicine. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/192010. Published October 20, 1999.
- What We Recommend. American Diabetes Association. http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/fitness/types-of-activity/what-we-recommend.html.
- Walking: A Step in the Right Direction. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/walking-step-right-direction. Published April 01, 2017.
- Foot Problems in Diabetes: An Overview | Clinical Infectious Diseases | Oxford Academic. OUP Academic. https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/39/Supplement_2/S73/329721. Published August 01, 2004.
- Magnitude of foot problems in diabetes in the developing world: a study of 1044 patients. Diabetic Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19719717. Published September 2009.