Walking is an easy way to jumpstart a daily exercise program. If you are a person living with type 2 diabetes, reaching and maintaining a healthy weight is important. Now that spring is upon us, it is the perfect time for you to get outside and walk your way to a healthier lifestyle. Not only does walking help you increase your fitness levels, but it also helps control blood glucose levels and improves your body's ability to use insulin.
The Health Benefits of Walking
Better Blood Glucose Control
When you exercise, your body uses energy in the form of glucose, just like a car uses gas. When diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, your blood glucose value can become elevated, but exercise helps your muscles oxidize the glucose in your blood and, therefore, helps lower your blood glucose values. In fact, regular exercise can help lower your A1c significantly.
How many calories you burn will depend on many factors, such as your age, weight, intensity, and distance — but regardless, you are burning calories whenever you move, and walking can help you reach your weight management goals. Walking is a great tool for helping maintain weight loss, too. Be sure to hydrate well before walking. Don’t care for straight water? Try a green tea filled with antioxidants to give your walking a boost.
Improved Heart Health
People who live with diabetes are two to four times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than people who don’t have diabetes, according to the World Heart Foundation. Aerobic exercise is great because it helps strengthen your heart as well as your cardiovascular system as a whole. Walking is a great form of aerobic exercise that helps lower blood pressure and reduce bad cholesterol.
Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to a number of serious health issues, including eye, feet, and kidney problems, along with nerve damage. Exercise can help you manage type 2 diabetes better, and the better you manage your diabetes, the lower your risk of complications.
Some additional benefits include:
- Losing weight, if needed
- Feeling happier
- Sleeping better
- Improving your memory
- Controlling your blood pressure
- Lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol
Exercise is an especially beneficial and critical component of the treatment plans for the millions of Americans living with type 2 diabetes. Researchers studying older adults with pre-diabetes found that 15 minutes of easy-to-moderate exercise after every meal curbed risky blood sugar spikes all day. Even better, taking an evening stroll was found to be much more effective at lowering blood sugar following supper. The evening meal, often the largest of the day, can significantly raise 24-hour glucose levels.
However, maintaining a fitness routine can be challenging, and while you may recognize that you need to exercise regularly, you may not know where to start. Here are some tips for starting and maintaining a walking routine:
Set a Goal
How far can you walk in 30 minutes or in 1 hour? In order to optimize your walking pace, try to aim for 1.5 miles per 30 minutes and 3 miles per hour, which is a brisk pace of about 20 minutes per mile. If you can't commit to walking for a full hour or 30 minutes, do what you can! Anything is better than nothing and can contribute to your daily steps tremendously. Experts say it is also a good idea to set a goal for the number of walks you would like to reach per week and write them down so you can check each walk off as you go and feel a sense of accomplishment.
Get the Right Gear
Toss away the old flip-flops and opt for a good pair of sneakers. This will help with posture during your walk and can also reduce risk of injury. Plus, if you have the right sneakers on, it can help improve your stride and make walking a longer distance more comfortable.
Use a Walking App
A walking app can be just the thing to keep you motivated and track your steps as you make note of your walking progress along the way. An app like Pacer is essentially a pedometer built into your smartphone, which is excellent for keeping track of steps on your walk and throughout the day. Alternatively, platforms like Human track your steps and movement but focus more on active minutes rather than steps and help you set challenges along the way.
Depending on the length of your walk and the outside temperature, your body can thirst for hydration. Carrying water or even green tea in a reusable bottle is an easy way to fuel your body.
Find a Motivating Playlist or Audio Book
Create your own playlist or head to your favorite music streaming service for a variety of curated playlists to suit your workout preference. Choose from options like pumped pop, classic rock, heavy beats, and more.
Are books more your speed? Take your favorite book outdoors by downloading your audiobook to keep you busy during that afternoon stroll. You can even listen to podcasts to make your walks educational and can help pass the time while also keeping you engaged.
Walk with Friends
An accountability buddy can help you stay on track and make that daily walk non-negotiable. Try to find a friend, family member or co-worker, or even a group of them, who will go for a walk with you a few times a week to keep you motivated and change things up.
Focus on Form
Walking itself doesn't take much skill and is very natural, but certain posture and form cues can help enhance your walk. Focus on keeping your chin up and shoulders square. Your core should be activated and your back should be nice and straight. Most importantly, your glutes should be engaged with every step and try to think about tucking your butt inward. You'll want to land on your heels and roll forward to push off of your toes with each stride.
Finish with a 5-Minute Stretch
Squeezing in even just five minutes of stretching after your walk can improve range of motion and prevent injury. Move muscle recovery along by taking at least five minutes to do some static stretching, which involves moving a muscle or joint as far as it can go and then holding it for a period of time. Static stretches like a quadriceps stretch, hamstring stretch and triceps stretch are all examples that can help provide relief and relaxation of the muscles after your walk.
Special Considerations for People Living with Diabetes
Before starting any physical activity, check with your health care provider to talk about the best physical activities for you. Be sure to discuss which activities you like, how to prepare, and what you should avoid.
- Drink plenty of fluids while being physically active to prevent dehydration (harmful loss of water in the body).
- Make sure to check your blood glucose before being physically active, especially if you take insulin.
- When you’re physically active, wear cotton socks and athletic shoes that fit well and are comfortable.
- After your activity, check to see how it has affected your blood glucose level.
- After being physically active, check your feet for sores, blisters, irritation, cuts, or other injuries. Call your health care provider if an injury doesn’t begin to heal after 2 days.