A brisk walk, especially after eating, is one of the best ways for diabetics to control their blood sugar. Maintaining a healthy weight is critical to reduce your risk of diabetes and improve diabetes symptoms, and walking is the easiest way to start burning calories today. Walking after eating forces your body to use up some of the blood sugar created from your meal and helps insulin work better. It’s also low-impact, free, and you can get great results from walking just a few minutes at a time.
We’ll cover 7 reasons why walking is so beneficial for diabetics, plus why walking is probably the best exercise to be your core fitness activity if you’re currently at risk for or dealing with diabetes.
Note: Always consult your doctor first about whether walking is right for you given your medical history, and how intense and how long your walks should be.
Why walking works: seven steps to manage diabetes
According to the Centers for Disease Control, diabetics who exercise regularly also exercise better weight management, sleep better, show a stronger commitment to healthier eating and managing their disease. Exercise helps to burn calories and lose or control weight, which can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and help control symptoms. Obesity greatly increases your chances of developing type 2 diabetes – according to diabetes.co.uk obesity may account for over 80% of the risk.
The American Diabetes Association recommends activity and exercise for controlling diabetes, because exercise helps make your cells more sensitive to insulin. Walking after eating has been shown to help lower blood sugar as well.
Blood sugar control
A short walk after each meal is an effective way to lower blood sugar. Studies have shown that multiple short walks after eating was even more effective in lowering blood sugar than one longer walk. A study in Diabetes Care showed that three walks as short as 15 minutes after eating showed significant results in lowering blood sugar levels, even more so than a single 45-minute walk each day.
Since the dinner meal is the largest that many people consume each day (whether that’s a good idea is debatable), walking after dinner can be an important way to keep your blood sugar under control.
As you do moderate exercise, like walking, your muscles use glucose (sugar) in your blood to keep powering your walk. Using up some of the blood sugar in this way can decrease your blood sugar. Exercise also makes the insulin your body does produce work more effectively.
It is important to note that strenuous exercise causes the release of stress hormones, which can actually cause your blood sugar to spike. Make sure to consult your doctor about how much exercise and what kind of exercise may be right for you to prevent accidentally exacerbating the situation.
Weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight is key to diabetes control. Obesity figures in the development of both diabetes and heart disease. Obesity may contribute 80% or more of the risk of type 2 diabetes. People with pre-diabetes (elevated blood sugar and increased insulin resistance) and who are overweight can reduce their risk of developing diabetes by losing even 5-7% of their body weight. Continued weight issues result in increasing needs for medication, decreased life expectancy, and complications involving dental health, pregnancy, kidney, and nervous system functions.
Walking is a great way to lose weight because it’s a low impact, easy to start exercise that almost anyone can do. Intense exercise can be hard to start and hard to maintain for those with health or weight issues, but walking can be done anywhere and increased slowly a little at a time.
Easy on the joints, good for the bones
Walking is a low-impact exercise that can be done in small increments to reduce wear and tear on your body. Even 5-minute walks add up over time. This is especially important for people with health conditions, including diabetes. Walking is also easier for people who may have weight issues, or haven’t exercised much in the past. You control how intense your walks are, and you can stop at any time.
A frequent side effect of diabetes is pain caused by the breakdown of joints in the legs and feet called arthropathy. Neuropathy is another condition involving the numbing of nerves and loss of feeling in the feet. Almost half of all arthritis sufferers also have diabetes, which makes intense exercise even more difficult. While many sports are difficult for people with arthritis and diabetes, walking is easy on the feet, ankles, knees, and hips, requiring no special equipment aside from well-fitting shoes. Walking for exercise boosts bone health and decreases the chance of broken bones.
Your digestive system converts food into sugar glucose to be used as fuel. For non-diabetics, the excess glucose fuel is cleared from the blood and stored in cells for later use. For diabetics who cannot regulate the sudden rush of post-meal glucose, the fuel flood often results in the blood sugar spikes that contribute to heart and kidney problems. Regular walks, particularly after eating, allow your body to use some of that food-introduced fuel right away. This can help keep your blood sugar regulated which spares the body the hard work of converting it for storage, eases the strain on the organs, and keeps spikes smaller.
Helps your mental health
Walking, especially walking outside, can boost your mood and make you feel great. Especially in this stressful time where exercise is difficult, walking doesn’t require club membership, facility use or meeting with a group. Strolling familiar streets is a mood-boosting break in the day, and getting out into nature and taking in the scenery is a great way to relieve stress and feel at peace.
Dealing with diabetes and fear over your health can lead to depression, anxiety, and a negative attitude towards dealing with your everyday medical needs. Managing your mental health is critical to controlling your diabetes; sliding from stress into depression often results in missed doctor appointments, fewer blood sugar checks, and less self-care. Regular walking throughout the day calms nerves, boost energy levels, and provide the “you” time everyone needs.
Works for your wallet
Walking is essentially free to start, which means it’s easier to get into and easier to stick with. You don’t need a gym or fitness facility to walk, and no special equipment, aside from comfortable walking shoes. You can walk alone, with a family member or friend, or take your phone with you and add as many virtual walkers to your “group” walk as you want. Your pathway can be the streets you know, roads that need exploring, or just a circle around your house, if you prefer to stay close to home.
Walking works for any routine
Unlike the gym or fitness class, walking fits into any time of day or night. You can get up early and take a 15-minute walk, or take a quick stroll before bed. There’s no worry about a schedule or calling a trainer to check their availability or concerns about crowded classes and unsafe or unsanitary equipment. Whether you’re a mother with kids in school (or homeschooled), a grandparent with no responsibilities or nine-to-fiver just trying to survive the commute and the cubicle, walking works for everyone.
Getting your steps isn’t just about walking the streets and trails; your daily routine also includes getting your steps in behind the lawnmower, vacuum cleaner and any household chores that have you on your feet and moving forward.
Some facts on diabetes
Diabetes refers to the body’s inability to create or effectively use its own insulin supply. In type 1 diabetes, the body essentially does not produce insulin at all while in type 2 diabetes the body does not respond well enough to insulin. Insulin is a hormone that regulates your blood sugar, as well as helps store blood sugar for future use.
- Just over 10% of the US population reports diabetes as a diagnosed health issue. That’s about 34 million people.
- Of the 1.5 million new cases diagnosed in the US in 2018, nearly 6,000 cases involved children ages 10-19.
- Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S., with over a quarter-million death certificates listing it as an underlying or contributing factor in all deaths in 2017.
- It costs over $300 billion every year to diagnose and treat diabetes in the U.S.
- While Type 1 diabetics (those who produce no insulin) must have daily insulin injected or pumped into their bodies, those with Type 2 diabetes (those who don’t respond well to insulin or don’t produce enough naturally) can often control their blood sugar with a combination of diet, weight loss, medication, and exercise.
- Diabetics who exercise regularly also exercise better weight management, sleep better, show a stronger commitment to healthier eating and managing their disease through regular testing, doctor visits, and medication management.
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