How Much Walking Is Best for Diabetes Control?

Improve Insulin Control and Health Markers with Walking

senior women walking for exercise

Exercise and walking are excellent tools for controlling Type II diabetes and improving health for people with diabetes.

Walk 38 Minutes or 4400 Steps a Day for Diabetes

 A study measured how much walking is needed to produce the best effects for people with diabetes. Walking or doing other aerobic exercise for 38 minutes (about 2.2 miles or 4400 steps) showed a significant effect for those with diabetes, even if they didn't lose weight.

They improved their hemoglobin A1C by 0.4 percent, reduced their risk of heart disease, and improved their cholesterol and triglyceride levels. They saved $288 a year in health care costs.

30-Minute Walking Workout for Diabetes

Brisk walking workouts can help you maintain a steady blood sugar level and body weight if you have Type 2 diabetes. A 30-minute walk at least five days per week is recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association for people with diabetes. Consult your health care team to see if walking is the right exercise for you and any precautions necessary for your individual circumstances and adjustments to your medications or diet.

Walking Goal: To walk for 30 minutes, with at least 20 continuous minutes at a brisk pace of 15 to 20 minutes per mile (3-4 mph.)

What you will need:

  • Walking clothing: You need good freedom of movement and you need to prevent chafing, which can lead to sores. Wear a fitness t-shirt and fitness shorts, warm-up pants or yoga pants. Sweat-wicking polyester fabric is preferred over cotton.
  • Where to walk: You can use a treadmill for your walking workout. If you prefer to walk outside, you should look for a walking route where you can walk with few interruptions to cross streets. Using a track at a nearby school is an option, or look for a greenway path or a park with a walking loop.  More: 14 Points to the Perfect Walking Route

      Walking Workout

      1. Get Ready to Walk: Prepare for your walk with a few moves to get your body ready. Stand up.  Loosen up your shoulders and neck with a few shrugs and shoulder circles. Loosen up your legs and hips by marching in place for a few seconds. If you like a full stretching routine, use our Walking Warm-Up Stretches
      2. Adjust Your Posture: Posture is very important to being able to walk fluidly at a brisk pace. Take a moment to get into the right walking posture. Stand up straight, with your eyes forward and your chin parallel to the ground. Engage your core muscles by pulling in your stomach and tilting your hips slightly forward as you tuck in your rear. Now straighten up by pretending there is a string attached to the top of your head and, with feet flat on the ground, raise yourself up from your hips to the top of your head. Relax your shoulders with another couple of shrugs. Bend your arms. Now you are ready to walk. More: Walking Posture
      3. Walk at an Easy Pace for 3 to 5 Minutes: Use the beginning of your walk as a warm-up to get your blood flowing to your muscles and to continue to tweak your walking posture. An easy pace is one where you could sing or carry on a full conversation without any heavier breathing.
      1. Speed up to a Brisk Pace for 20 to 25 Minutes: Now now want to move into a brisk walking pace to achieve moderate exercise intensity that has the best health benefits. Move your arms faster in coordination with your steps to help pick up the pace. A brisk walking pace is one where you are breathing heavier but you can still speak in sentences. You want to aim for 50% to 70% of maximum heart rate. Use our Heart Rate Zone Calculator to find the right range for your age. Take your exercise pulse to see if you are in the moderate intensity zone.
      2. Cool Down for 1 to 3 Minutes: Finish your walk by walking at an easy pace. You may want to end with the stretching routine.

        Not Enough of a Workout?

        If you have difficulty raising your heart rate into the moderate intensity zone, use the tips for how to walk faster to pick up your pace. You can also raise your heart rate by adding incline to a treadmill workout or using a route with hills and stairs for an outdoor workout. Using fitness walking poles or Nordic Walking can also raise your heart rate at a slower pace.

        10,000 Steps per Day for Better Diabetes Control

        Walkers who logged 10,000 steps per day - almost 90 minutes or 5 miles - saw the biggest benefit. The number of walkers with diabetes who needed insulin therapy dropped by 25 percent, and those on insulin therapy reduced their dosage by an average 11 units per day. They had great improvement in hemoglobin A1C levels of 1.1 percent, improved cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and reduced risk of heart disease. They reduced their medical costs by over $1200 per year.

        Choosing and Using a Pedometer to Count Steps: Which pedometer is best? Learn about the different types available and see the top picks for each type.

        Stay on the Couch - Get Sick and Lose Money

        Those who didn't walk saw their health care costs go up by over $500 in the two-year study period. Their insulin use went up, as did cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure. There is a huge cost in failing to walk and exercise, especially for those with diabetes.
        More: Health Risks of Sitting

        It's Not Too Late to Take the First Step

        Exercise and walking have also been shown to reduce the risks of developing type II diabetes. Whether you have diabetes or not, it is never too soon or too late to begin a walking or exercise program.

        • Quick Start 30-Day Walking Plan: This 30-day plan coaches you to go from zero to 30 minutes a day of walking. It is designed for beginners and you will build up from just 10 or 15 minutes of walking. By the end you'll be able to enjoy a 30-minute walking workout for diabetes control.
        • 10 Tips for Walking With Diabetes: You will need to take care of your feet and wear the right shoes as well as managing energy snacks. Here are tips for walkers who have diabetes.
        • How to Walk for Weight Control: Losing excess weight is recommended for people with diabetes. Here is how to make walking part of your weight loss plan. Learn how many calories walking burns and the importance of brisk walking and managing your diet to lose weight.
        • Treadmill Weight Loss Walking Plan: Turn your treadmill into a calorie-burning machine. Use these workouts for variety, challenging your body in different ways throughout the week. You'll build fitness and burn fat to lose weight.


        Chiara Di Loreto, MD, Carmine Fanelli, MD, "Make Your Diabetic Patients Walk: Long-term impact of different amounts of physical activity on type 2 diabetes," Diabetes Care 28:1295-1302, 2005

        Sheri R. Colberg, PHD, FACSM, et al. SPECIAL COMMUNICATIONS: Joint Position Statement. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. December 2010 - Volume 42 - Issue 12 - pp 2282-2303 doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181eeb61c