Getting active is important for Type 2 diabetes self care but is one of the hardest things to do. Managing diabetes has a lot of daily tasks and exercise is often last on that list. If that’s the case, starting walking program is one of the best things to do to improve your overall health. Walking is an aerobic exercise that offers physical health benefits like increased blood flow and lower blood pressure, and reduces stress for mental wellness. It’s also a low impact movement which is best if you have aches, pains or mobility issues related to diabetes.
We go over the many health benefits of walking for people with diabetes, how to set realistic goals and things to do before taking a walk.
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How Walking Helps Diabetes
1) Low Impact on the Body
Walking is the perfect starter exercise because it’s low intensity and can fit any age and fitness level. Many people with diabetes have limited mobility or have higher body weight. This can make other exercises, like jogging or weight lifting, hard at first and even prevent someone from starting any exercise.
What’s great with a walking routine is that you control how easy or hard to go. If you have arthritis pain, joint pain or get tired easily, start with short walks or go at a slower pace. Over time taking a walk as part of your daily routine will strengthen muscles to help alleviate joint aches and help regain mobility.
And don’t worry if you can only do short walks at first. Even a 10-minute daily walk is valuable physical activity when you have a sedentary lifestyle. Eventually you want to work towards longer walks or moderate intensity walking (like a brisk walk) to see more health benefits.
2) Controls Blood Sugar Levels
Adding walking to your daily routine can lower and control blood sugar levels. Regular brisk walking is a moderate exercise that uses blood glucose for energy, which helps lowers blood glucose levels.
If you don’t get a lot of physical activity even short walks will improve your blood glucose. This study from the American Diabetes Association showed that short bouts of light intensity walking or simple resistance activities helped slow after-meal blood glucose and insulin increases.
3) Helps with Diabetes-related conditions
People with diabetes often have other complications such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and nerve damage. These complications are associated with diabetes because chronically high blood glucose levels can restrict blood flow, damage blood vessels and lead to high cholesterol.
Like other aerobic exercises, regular walking boosts your cardiovascular fitness and heart health. Brisk walking increases heart rate as the heart pumps more oxygen throughout the body, which strengthens the heart and lungs. Blood circulation also increases and helps heal damaged blood vessels and nerves (or prevents damage from happening).
4) Doesn’t Make You Hungry
Walking is actually an exercise that doesn’t make you hungry, which is a huge benefit if you’re trying to reach a healthy weight. This study of overweight participants found that after 40 minutes of moderate pace walking, their hunger didn’t change and did not need to eat more calories.
Weight loss is mostly about eating less calories than your body uses. While more intense workouts can burn a lot of calories, they often leave you hungrier and more likely to overeat. Since you’re less likely to overeat after taking a walk, this makes weight loss easier if you’re on a restricted diet.
5) Improves Mental Health
Not only does walking boosts physical activity but it also improves mental wellness. Long walks alone gives you time away from distractions and clears your mental state. And walking with other people is a healthy way to maintain social relationships and peer support (important when managing diabetes).
Scientific research shows aerobic exercises (like walking) reduces anxiety and depression and walking through forest areas is effective in lowering negative moods. Also, a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias showed that nursing home patients who participated in a certain walking program was associated with slower cognitive decline.
6) Walk Anywhere and Anytime
Not having enough time or inconvenience are common reasons that make diabetes self care hard for people. But a major benefit of walking is convenience!
Finding a place to walk is easy and walking different areas makes for more interesting walks to helps keep you from getting bored. You can also walk faster or a take brisk walk when you don’t have much time and still see the many benefits of walking. In this 2018 study, older adults tried walking sessions based on high intensity interval training (3-minute bouts of intense walking) and saw significant reductions in their blood glucose.
How much walking is good exercise?
The most important thing at first is to start walking regularly. This makes you commit time and get your body used to the physical activity. Questions like how to long to walk or how many miles to lose weight become more important after you have a walking routine.
Once you’re ready, an easy starting goal is to walk at least 2,000 steps per day, which is roughly equal to 1 mile or 30 minutes. After a week or so increase the goal to at least 2 miles / 4,000 steps per day or about an hour. The American Diabetes Association recommends an optimal goal of at least 3.2 miles or 6,400 steps a day for people with diabetes to see greater health benefits.
You can also set goals by increasing the intensity level such as walking faster, walking up an incline (either on a hill or treadmill), or using ankle weights.
Getting Ready for Walks
Walk After Meals
Time your walks after meals so your body uses up carbs released from eating. This helps keep blood glucose from spiking and make any blood glucose increases more gradual. This also helps lower the chance of having excess glucose in your blood.
It’s always a good idea to warm up before exercising, especially if you don’t have an active lifestyle. Warming up increases blood flow to muscles and joints to prep the body for physical activity. For light walks you can gently stretch or deep breathe. Or do deep stretching, jumping jacks or stationary squats to get ready for a higher intensity walk.
Wear Proper Shoes
Some people with diabetes have foot numbness caused by nerve damage related to their diabetes. However, walking shoes that fit too tight can create friction and cause sores or blisters. And you may not feel the friction due to the numbness which makes the situation worse.
You can help prevent this by using shoes with a wider width or have good cushioning. There are actually companies that specialize in shoes for people with foot conditions or designed for diabetes, such as FitVille.com.
Take Care of Foot Pain
Having minor foot pain or aches is common (even in healthy adults) but can lower the quality of your walks. Over the counter products such as capsaicin cream or other pain relief ointments can help alleviate common pain or soreness. However you should consult your care provider for any severe or persistent pain.
Walking is one of the best ways for people with Type 2 diabetes to exercise regularly and start getting in better health. Regular walking offers many physical benefits – like reversing heart disease and controlling blood sugar – and mental health benefits of reducing stress. At the same time, it’s a low impact movement that’s safe for people with mobility issues or haven’t exercised in a while.
Over time you’ll want to add other exercises to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. But adding a daily walk is the best ‘first step’ to optimal health and diabetes self care!
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