Walk your way to better diabetes control. Learn how to start a walking program to improve your health & fend off heart disease.
People who have diabetes are at an increased risk of health complications, including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, visual problems, and nerve problems. Along with a healthful diet and taking insulin along with any other prescribed medication, regular exercise can be an important part of your diabetes management plan. Walking is a great way to stay physically active, since it is easy on your body, convenient, and inexpensive.
Walking and Diabetes: What the Research Says
Several studies have examined the effects of walking on people who have diabetes:
- In one study, researchers compared the risk of heart disease-related death in people with diabetes who walked at least two hours per week with those who were less active. They found that the walkers were almost 40 percent less likely to die from all causes, and 34 percent less likely to die from heart disease.
- Another study looked at the overall death rates of walkers and non-walkers with diabetes. The researchers found that the walkers, who averaged about two to three hours per week, were 40 to 55 percent less likely to die than the non-walkers.
- A third study looked at the effects of a walking exercise program on women who had gestational diabetes. The women who added a low-intensity walking program to their diabetes management plan had better blood glucose control and required less insulin than the women who did not walk.
- In a Swedish study, researchers tested the effects of a four-month walking program on people with type 2 diabetes. The program consisted of 45 to 60 minutes of walking three times a week. Compared with the control group that did not walk, the walking program participants had better blood pressure and cholesterol control, and a healthier body mass index (BMI), a measure of weight in relation to height.
Walking and Diabetes: Getting Started
To start a walking program, make your first step a talk with your doctor, who can inform you of any limitations and help you develop a plan that is safe for you.
Next, follow these tips to get off on the right foot:
- Find a safe route.Map out a route in your area that is a safe place to walk. If you are new to walking, it is a good idea to start on a relatively flat course.
- Enlist a partner.Walking with a partner can be safer and make you more likely to stick with your program, since you have someone who is counting on you.
- Get a good pair of shoes.Walking in a comfortable, well-fitting pair of shoes is even more important when you have diabetes, since it can reduce your risk of foot problems.
- Dress for the weather.Wear cool, breathable clothing and a sun visor when it is warm out, and dress warmly with a knit cap when the weather is cold.
- Warm up and cool down.Walk slowly for at least five minutes before and after completing your faster-paced workout walk.
- Stretch your muscles.Take time to stretch all of your major muscles after you warm up and cool down.
- Set goals.At first, aim to walk two or three times a week for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Each week, increase your goals — walk for more days, for a few more minutes each time, and at a faster pace.
- Reward yourself.Celebrate when you reach your goals. For example, when you are able to walk for 30 minutes at a relatively fast clip, reward yourself by participating in a fun 5K walk in your area.
The best thing about walking? You can do it anytime, anywhere, and even indoors. Head to your local mall on inclement days or check out a walking home-exercise video from the library. No need to spend money: just lace up those shoes — and go!