How Can Walking Help People With Diabetes

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Taking a walk might be one of the best things you can do if you have diabetes. Walking not only improves the way in which your body responds to insulin but also reduces abdominal fat, which is linked to insulin resistance. So get your walking shoes on and tell diabetes to go take a walk!

There’s no doubt you can walk your way to good health. Walking makes your muscles and bones stronger, burns calories, and lifts your mood. It can also bring down your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.1 Turns out, walking can also go a long way in controlling your blood sugar levels. Before you lace up, let’s take a look at how a walk can help you if you are at risk of developing diabetes.

What Is Diabetes?

People with diabetes either have low levels of insulin, the hormone that signals our cells to take in glucose from the bloodstream so it can be converted into energy; or the insulin in their body doesn’t function properly, causing high levels of blood sugar. There are mainly two kinds of diabetes: type 1, where the immune system destroys insulin-producing cells, and type 2, where the body produces insufficient insulin or the cells don’t respond normally to insulin (insulin resistance).2 Type 2 diabetes is more prevalent than type 1, accounting for 90 to 95% of cases.3 The good news is your diet and physical activity can play a major role in both preventing and managing type 2 diabetes.

What Effect Does Walking Have On Diabetes?

According to research, half an hour of brisk walking every day can lower your risk for diabetes by 30%.4 It makes also sense to add walking to your routine to manage diabetes. As one study showed, people with type 2 diabetes who walked for half an hour immediately lowered their glycemic levels by 2.2 mmol/l.5 That’s not all – diabetics who walk at least one mile a day reduce their mortality risk by half when compared to diabetics who don’t walk.6

How Does Walking Help?

  • Aerobic exercises of moderate intensity like walking impacts the way our body uses and regulates glucose.
  • They can increase the amount of glucose taken in by the cells in response to signals from insulin. This improvement in the response to insulin (insulin sensitivity) can last up to 24 hours after exercise.7
  • Muscular contractions, as a result of exercise, can move glucose into working muscles directly, without the need for insulin; this effect can last for a few hours after walking.8
  • Regular walking can reduce abdominal fat, which is significantly linked to insulin resistance.9

Walk Right

Apart from keeping a check on your glucose levels, walking can also be a pleasant addition to your routine. Here are some tips to help you make the most of it.10:

  • Check with your doctor before starting a walking program. As exercise affects your blood glucose levels, your doctor may make appropriate tweaks to your diet or medication.11
  • You need about 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise (that quickens your breathing and heart rate) per week. So walking for half an hour 5 days a week will work. You can also do a brisk 10-minute walk thrice a day whichever is easier for you.
  • If you’re not used to it, start off slow. Begin with 15 minutes a day and increase your walking time by about five minutes every couple of weeks; if you walk less than three times a week, take at least a couple of weeks to increase the time. Your walk should ideally have three stages:
  1. Warm-Up: Walking at a slow pace for about 5 minutes.
  2. Brisk Walk: Walking fast enough to increase your heart rate but not so fast that you’re not able to talk or breathe easily.
  3. Cool Down: Slowing down your pace and letting your body cool down. You might also want to do some stretching exercises at the end of your walk, as this will improve your flexibility.
  • Combining walking with some resistance training (e.g., lifting weights) which builds muscle can help you manage blood glucose levels better.12
  • Check your blood sugar before and after the walk. Remember to carry some hard candy, juice, or any other fast-acting source of sugar with you.
  • Stick to a routine as much as possible. Go for a walk at the same time every day and get a consistent amount of exercise every time. This will make it easier to control your blood sugar.13
  • Make sure that you wear good shoes that provide arch support and have flexible soles. Also, check your feet for any sores, blisters, or ulcers before and after a walk.
  • Walk right in the proper form: chin up, shoulders back, and toes pointed ahead. Touch the ground with your heel first and then move your weight forward.

References   [ + ]

1, 10. Walking…A Step in the Right Direction, US National Institutes of Health.
2. Diabetes, National Health Service.
3, 8, 12. Colberg, Sheri R., Ronald J. Sigal, Bo Fernhall, Judith G. Regensteiner, Bryan J. Blissmer, Richard R. Rubin, Lisa Chasan-Taber, Ann L. Albright, and Barry Braun. “Exercise and type 2 diabetes the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association: joint position statement.” Diabetes care 33, no. 12 (2010): e147-e167.
4, 7. Hu, Frank B., Ronald J. Sigal, Janet W. Rich-Edwards, Graham A. Colditz, Caren G. Solomon, Walter C. Willett, Frank E. Speizer, and JoAnn E. Manson. “Walking compared with vigorous physical activity and risk of type 2 diabetes in women: a prospective study.” Jama 282, no. 15 (1999): 1433-1439.
5. Rosenqvist, Tomas Fritz, Urban. “Walking for exercise? Immediate effect on blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetes.” Scandinavian journal of primary health care 19, no. 1 (2001): 31-33.
6. Tyler C., Deborah L. Wingard, Besa Smith, Donna Kritz-Silverstein, and Elizabeth Barrett-Connor. “Walking decreased risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in older adults with diabetes.” Journal of clinical epidemiology 60, no. 3 (2007): 309-317.
9. Miyatake, Nobuyuki, Hidetaka Nishikawa, Akie Morishita, Mie Kunitomi, Jun Wada, Hisao Suzuki, Kayo Takahashi, Hirofumi Makino, Shohei Kira, and Masafumi Fujii. “Daily walking reduces visceral adipose tissue areas and improves insulin resistance in Japanese obese subjects.” Diabetes research and clinical practice 58, no. 2 (2002): 101-107.
11. Living with type 2 diabetes, National Health Service.
13. Diabetes and exercise, National Institutes of Health.