Walking and Diabetes

What You Need to Know to Get Started Walking with Diabetes

Walking on The Tan running track around The Botanical Gardens in the morning.
James Braund/ GettyImages

Walking is one of the most popular and widely recommended forms of physical activity for people with diabetes. It’s easy, relaxing and can be done practically anywhere. Most important, it’s highly effective at controlling blood glucose levels. Still, there are important things for people with diabetes to consider before taking off.

The Benefits of Walking When You Have Diabetes

By walking every day for 30 minutes to an hour, people with diabetes can reap the following benefits:

  • Improved glucose control. Exercise helps muscles absorb blood sugar, preventing it from building up in the bloodstream. This effect can last for hours or even days, but it’s not permanent. That’s why walking regularly is essential for continued blood glucose control.
  • Better cardiovascular fitness. Because people with diabetes are at increased risk for heart disease, this is an important benefit.
  • Weight control. Regular walking burns calories; this can help control weight, which in turn can reduce health risks.

Getting the Go-ahead from a Health Care Provider

First, it’s important for you to get the OK from a health care provider for any new exercise program to make sure you are fit enough to increase your activity levels. A health care specialist can also inform you of special precautions to take based on what type of diabetes you has. Other factors to consider include medications being taken, your current fitness state, glucose levels and other factors.

Walking and Foot Care

Foot health is particularly important for anyone with diabetes, so the input of a podiatrist may be especially useful if you're considering a walking program. Blisters, abrasions, and breaks in the skin of the feet are often hard to detect since foot numbness is one symptom of diabetes.

These injuries are slow to heal and prone to infection since another symptom of diabetes is reduced blood flow in the small blood vessels of the extremities. A podiatrist or other health care specialist can recommend alternative forms of exercise if a foot condition makes walking difficult.

The Importance of Shoes

It’s not necessary to spend a lot of money on walking shoes, but there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The shoes need to fit comfortably, with plenty of room in the toe area. They should not rub at the heel. Some walking shoes include an extra pair of eyelets close to your ankle. Lacing these may help prevent heel friction.
  • Walking shoes are different from running shoes. Walking shoes should be flatter and flex in the forefoot.
  • The staff at a “walking store,” an increasingly popular type of specialty retailer, is usually well trained at fitting walking shoes. But you will also find good service at a technical running store where serious runners purchase their shoes.
  • Don’t forget socks. Cotton socks can bunch and retain moisture. Check out newer synthetic fabrics, such as CoolMax and Dri-Fit that wick moisture away from the skin. Top Picks for Walking Socks

    Starting a Walking Program

    Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, it’s time to get started.

    • Begin slowly and easily. Walking just 5 or 10 minutes on the first day is perfectly acceptable if that’s all you can accomplish. The important thing is not to get injured or sore, which could end a walking campaign at the starting line. More: How to Start Walking for Beginners
    • Add 5 or 10 minutes per week. As one continues to improve, aim for 45 minutes to an hour, five to seven days per week. That’s an ideal amount of time for blood glucose maintenance. However, health benefits begin to accrue at just 30 minutes per day.
    • Break it up. Several 10- to 15-minute sessions are just as effective as one longer walk.
    • Count your steps. Pedometers and activity monitors such as Fitbit can help track total steps taken on daily walks, or all day long. Recording walking totals can be motivating.
    • Find a place to walk. If one’s neighborhood is unsafe, limit walking to daytime, walk in groups or try a nearby school track, community center or shopping mall.

    Special Considerations for Walking with Diabetes

    • Always wear a diabetes ID bracelet and carry glucose pills, hard candy or sweet snacks in case blood sugar drops.
    • Follow a doctor’s orders regarding when to check blood glucose levels. You may need to take readings before, after and perhaps even during their exercise routine.
    • Be sure to do a foot check after each walking session and check for cuts, abrasions, and blisters.

    Walking with Others

    It’s often valuable to have a friend join you on walks to help stay motivated, especially through busy periods, bad weather and holidays, when it’s tempting to slack off. In many communities, there are a variety of walking groups -- mall-walkers, stroller-walkers, hikers, race-walkers and groups formed by neighborhoods, religious groups, and social clubs.

    Check community center bulletin boards, neighborhood newsletters or postings at health clubs to find a local walking group. Enter the phrase “walking clubs” and the name of your city or town into an Internet search engine or on Meetup.com, and many other options will likely present themselves.

    Sources:

    "Diabetes and Exercise: When to Monitor Your Blood Sugar." 23 Feb. 2007. MayoClinic. Com. 03 Feb. 2007. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. 9 Sep. 2007. http://www.mayoclinic.com/print/diabetes-and-exercise/DA00105/METHOD=print

    American Diabetes Association. "Physical Activity/Exercise and Diabetes." Diabetes Care. 27.1 Jan. 2004. S58-62. 5 Sept. 2007.

    "What I Need to Know About Physical Activity and Exercise." National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. June 2004. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, National Institutes of Health. 9 Sep. 2007. http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/physical_ez/

    “Diet and Exercise: The Keys to Success with Diabetes.” The Cleveland Clinic Health Information Center. 18 July 2003. Cleveland Clinic Foundation. 9 Sep. 2007.

    Continue Reading