Reviewed by Jason C. Baker, M.D. Updated 8/2/19.
For a healthy, happy lifestyle, try walking — the most popular form of exercise. It’s easy, safe, and free. It’s also relaxing and energizing, easy to do, and does not call for special equipment. Walking can be done almost anywhere and at any time, year-round — to the store, in the mall, or in your neighborhood; alone, with your dog, or with others; and at your own pace. And best of all, it can lower your blood sugar.
Exercise does more than decrease blood sugar levels. It also decreases overall complication risks for people with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.
It is important to stay in touch with your doctor when starting a new exercise routine. For those who have not exercised for a long time or who have weight problems, walking is an excellent way to begin an exercise program.
You can start slowly, and then increase your speed and keep up a steady pace. A good conditioning program begins with moderation and dedication.
Doctors recommend walking to ease or ward off a number of health problems:
- Walking can help you strengthen your heart and lungs. Improve circulation
- Prevent heart attacks and strokes
- Lose weight
- Lower high blood pressure
- Boost calorie burning
- Favorably alter cholesterol
- Improve muscle tone in your legs and stomach
- Reduce stress
- Stop bone tissue decay
- Reduce arthritis pain
The Right Shoes
Choose a good quality, lightweight walking shoe with breathable upper materials, such as leather or nylon mesh. Walking shoes should fit well. Go to a shoe store and have both shoes fitted for length and width with the socks you’ll be using. Make sure the shoe is snug but not too tight over the sock. The shoe should have plenty of room for the toes to move around.
Good socks for walking are also important. Buy socks with acrylic fibers that can “wick” away sweat. Some other shoe tips: Check on the shoe width; it must allow the ball of your foot to fit comfortably. Make sure you get good arch support.
Buy shoes later in the day. Feet swell as the day goes on so it’s best to buy your shoes when your feet are at their largest. The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) recommends replacing your shoes after 600–800 miles of running or walking, or every 6–8 months.
What to Wear
Dress according to the seasons. In the summer, choose light and airy material, a think long sleeve if you are heading out after sunset, and comfortable walking pants, like yoga pants. In the winter, you may need to layer up more. Make sure you have comfortable, “breathable” socks as described above that are not too thick. Make sure they are the right size so they don’t bunch up. Don’t forget your hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen if you are going for a morning stroll.
Getting Started: Baby Steps
Before you start walking, stretch your muscles with some simple warm-up exercises. Try toe touching and knee bends. Don’t push yourself too hard. When you’re ready to begin, the best way to start is walking 20 minutes at least three times a week.
Walk at a comfortable pace, slowing down if you find yourself breathing heavily. If 20 minutes is too much, cut back to 10 or 15 minutes. You can gradually increase your time and pace as your body adapts to the exercise.
Experts recommend that healthy adults take at least 10,000 steps in total per day. However, if you’re just starting to exercise, that goal may be too high at first.
A cost-friendly pedometer or fitness tracker like the FitBit can help you track how many steps you take throughout an average day. Try increasing this by another 500 steps every two weeks until you reach the 10,000 steps per day goal.
If you don’t have a fitness tracker, use a Daily Diabetes Diary to keep track of your walks and the progress you are making. Keep all your data in one diary or fitness tool, so it’s not too much trouble to keep track of everything.
Move at a steady pace, brisk enough to make your heart beat faster. Breathe more deeply. Walk with your head erect, back straight, belly flat. Keep your legs out front and your knees slightly bent.
Swing your arms freely at your sides. As you walk, land on the heel of your foot. Roll forward to push off on the ball of your foot. To avoid injury, walk on flat, level surfaces. And when you first start your walking program, avoid hills. If you’re walking in the evening, wear clothing with reflective material.
You should talk to your doctor before you begin a walking program, and work with him or her to set goals and any needed limits. Remember to test your blood sugar before and after walking. Always use good judgment to stay safe.
Don’t walk outdoors in very hot or cold weather. You can try walking indoors at a local shopping mall until conditions get better. If you feel dizzy or short of breath, stop and take a break.
Stretch before and after walking to avoid injury. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, especially in hot weather. If you are on insulin or take medication that causes low blood sugar, carry your blood sugar monitor or CGM and a fast-acting carbohydrate like glucose tablets with you when you walk.
Own Your Walking Program
Get into a routine that you can commit to and go for your walk at a dedicated time. Coordinate with a friend or neighbor so you have more motivation to go on your walks.
You are now ready to begin a walking program. It is a prescription for a healthier, happier life!
NOTE: The information is not intended to be a replacement or substitute for consultation with a qualified medical professional or for professional medical advice related to diabetes or another medical condition. Please contact your physician or medical professional with any questions and concerns about your medical condition.
- American Podiatric Medical Association. Choosing shoes for sports. Retrieved 8/2/19 from https://www.apma.org/Patients/HealthyFeetTips.cfm?ItemNumber=13377
- Mayo Clinic. Walking shoes: Features and fit that keep you moving. Retrieved 8/2/19 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/walking/art-20043897
- How to select the right athletic shoes. American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society. Retrieved 8/2/19 from http://www.aofas.org/footcaremd/how-to/footwear/Pages/Selecting-Athletic-Shoes.aspx.
- Wearing the right shoes for walking. American Heart Association. Retrieved 8/2/19 from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/PhysicalActivity/Walking/Wearing-the-Right-Shoes-for-Walking_UCM_461782_Article.jsp#.WBYynI8rLrc.