Did you know that walking is one of the simplest and most effective ways to step into a healthier lifestyle? It can also be a powerful tool to help manage your diabetes.
Walking is a relatively low-risk physical activity, and research shows that it can provide substantial health benefits, including better blood sugar [glucose] control, for people with diabetes,
says kinesiologist Dr. Marni Armstrong, PhD, who is the assistant scientific director for the Alberta Health Services’ Medicine Strategic Clinical Network, community health sciences adjunct assistant professor at the University of Calgary, and co-author of the physical activity and diabetes chapter of the Diabetes Canada 2018 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada (CPG).
She adds, “Research shows that, whether or not you have diabetes, being inactive puts you at much higher risk for cardiovascular disease than being active.”
Here are four popular types of walking. Choose the style that best suits your needs—then pull on your walking shoes and get moving!
1. Go at your own speed—Leisure walking
If you are not currently active, adding an easy-paced walk to your daily routine can have a positive impact on your blood sugar levels, energy and mood, says Dr. Armstrong. Enjoy an early-morning walk through your neighbourhood, an afternoon outing with your dog, or an evening stroll to wind down at the end of the day.
“The ‘no pain, no gain’ idea is a myth,” she says, “so choose a walking pace that feels comfortable for you and build from there.” She recommends you start by increasing the time you spend on the walk, and eventually work toward building intensity as well.
How-to: Walk with a straight posture, your chest lifted and your shoulders back. Rest on a bench along the way if you need to. Pace yourself so you feel energized, not fatigued, afterwards.
• Track your walks, so you can slowly increase the distance and time.
• Include errands as part of your walk to make it feel more purposeful.
• Take different routes to make these outings more interesting for you.
• Invite your family or friends to join you or join a walking group.
2. Pick up the pace—Power walking
“If you can move a little faster than a leisurely pace, you’ll improve your level of fitness even more and you’ll burn more calories,” says Dr. Armstrong. “A simple 10-minute brisk walk after a meal can help improve your post-meal blood sugar levels.”
How-to: Pump your arms at your sides, relax your shoulders and push off with your toes with each step.
• Head for a park or a location without stoplights and stop signs so there’s nothing to break your rhythm.
3. Give yourself a workout—Nordic walking
If you add Nordic walking poles (for sale at outdoors stores and for loan at some public libraries) to your walking routine, you can engage more muscles, burn more calories and increase the intensity of standard walking.
“Nordic walking poles can also be helpful for people with balance issues or those with hip, knee or back pain, since they’re more likely to have improved posture and engagement of their core muscles when they walk with these poles,” says Dr. Armstrong, who regularly promotes Nordic walking to her clients with diabetes.
How-to: Angle the poles behind you (the way you would in cross-country skiing), keep your arms straight as they swing forward and back, and press down on the straps or the base of the handles to work the upper body muscles.
• Nordic walking is not difficult, but many people find that the best way to learn the technique is to take a lesson. Surf the Internet to find resources, including videos.
4. Take a gentler approach—Water walking
Water exercise is especially good for people who are carrying extra weight, have balance issues, or have stiff or painful joints. Try walking pool widths in waist- to chest-deep water at your local pool, says Dr. Armstrong.
How-to: Lean slightly forward from the ankles (not the waist) and pump your arms to propel yourself forward. Do not worry that you are not walking quickly enough for a good workout, since the water’s resistance makes water walking challenging at even a slow pace.
• If possible, walk in a warm-water pool (28-29°C/82-84°F), since walking does not generate the same amount of body heat as swimming. Alternatively, wear a T-shirt over your bathing suit to stay warm.
• Drink water during and after your workout to avoid dehydration.
Walking success stories
Diabetes Canada’s signature fundraising event Lace Up to End Diabetes generates a lot of excitement and participation from people across the country each year. It’s a great way for people who like to walk to be active and raise funds in support of education, support services, advocacy and diabetes research that can lead to the next big medical breakthrough.
Tarrah Mauricette (page 16) hosted a walk in Ottawa last September through her walking program Bamboo2, in which people hold bamboo sticks while moving to the beat of music.
Arlene Wolfe (page 16) from Manitoba surpassed her goal of 300,000 steps in September by more than 125 per cent.
Merlin Potter, who lives with type 2 and hails from Paradise, N.L., walked all month to complete the Lace Up 100K challenge in honour of his younger brother, who died at the age of 40 from diabetes-related complications.
Warren Rinn lives in Winnipeg and walked one kilometre for every $10 he raised throughout the month in support of his daughter Kate, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2021.
Walking and your feet
5 tips to keep your feet healthy and happy
1. Buy exercise shoes from a store that has knowledgeable employees who will fit you properly. For water walking, wear slip-on water shoes or more-supportive aqua shoes.
2. If you have lost sensation in your feet due to nerve damage, also known as diabetic peripheral neuropathy, have your shoes professionally fitted by a chiropodist (a health-care professional who diagnoses and treats foot problems, including medical and surgical treatment).
3. Do not wear tight socks.
4. Examine your feet after every walk. Visit a foot-care specialist if you discover a blister or rash, if the skin is cracked or bleeding, or if there is a change in the colour or appearance of your feet, skin or toenails.
5. Do not walk for exercise if you have an open sore anywhere on your feet.
For more information, visit Foot Care: A Step Toward Good Health.
Did you know?
This September, Diabetes Canada is encouraging Canadians to take the #LaceUpYourWay challenge to raise funds and awareness for Diabetes Canada. Challenge yourself or rally a team to #LaceUpYourWay and raise funds to help bring us one step closer to a cure. Visit Lace Up to End Diabetes for details.
This updated article originally appeared in Diabetes Dialogue, Summer 2014.
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