Walk Benefits Diabetes
Taking a long walk is one of life’s simplest joys. You can set out with a friend and get caught up on each other’s lives. Or you can go it alone and spend your stroll observing, thinking, checking out new music, or listening to the birds chirp. Whatever your preference, going for a walk is more than an escape from daily drudgery—it’s a surprisingly effective way to keep blood sugar in check, control your weight, and improve all-around health.
There’s no mystery to why walking is so good for people with diabetes. Like any form of exercise, a long stroll forces your muscle cells to burn up reserves of glucose, helping to reduce blood-sugar levels. In fact, regular exercise trains your muscle cells to become more receptive to signals from insulin, the hormone that lowers blood sugar. In one huge study of more than 300,000 men and women, researchers found that devoted walkers cut their risk for type 2 diabetes by 30 percent. If you already have diabetes and take medication, adopting a walking program could help you lower your dose or get off diabetes drugs altogether.
Here’s some really good news about taking a stroll: Mile for mile, walking and running burn similar amounts of calories. A well-designed walking program is just as likely to help you lose a belly roll. And you’re more likely to stick with a walking routine.
Walking has other vital benefits, of course. It burns calories, reduces stress, stokes your energy levels, lowers blood pressure and levels of bad LDL cholesterol, and raises HDL cholesterol—the healthy kind. Start walking five days a week and you’ll quickly see these important changes in your blood tests, belt size, and overall well-being. Here’s how to make these good things happen.
Get the Right Shoes
A good pair of walking shoes will help you travel farther and faster with more com fort. Your old running shoes may be okay, but be sure they don’t have “flared” heels, which are wider than the shoe itself at the base. That provides stability if you’re gal loping fast but can prevent your foot from rolling normally while walking. Walking shoes should have an “undercut” heel.
Best bet: Go to a respected athletic-footwear store where a skilled salesperson can recommend the ideal shoe for your foot shape and size. Explain what type of terrain you’ll be walking on and how many miles you plan to walk a week. Bring along a well-worn pair of sneakers. A savvy salesperson can look at the wear pattern on your shoes to help pick out a style that’s right for your foot type. For example, if the inner heel is more worn than the outer heel, your foot probably turns in excessively as you walk. In this case, you’ll want some extra arch support and a shoe designed for “motion control.”
Try on your shoes and walk around the store. They should hug your heel and not slide up and down as you walk. The shoes should also be flexible but have firm arch support. Most important, the shoes should feel comfortable when you walk. A good walking shoe lasts about 350 miles. If you walk 10 miles a week, that’s about eight months.
Set Strolling Goals
Setting goals for when and how long to walk each day is a surefire way to get the most out of any exercise program. For people who are serious about walking for I better health, the right goal is to walk 45 minutes a day, five days of the week. Early morning, during lunch hour, or right after dinner are perfect times; commit to one (or two) of these.
But don’t assume you can immediately walk with vigor for 45 minutes. If you have been on the sidelines for some time, you’ll need to ease into your program. Create a chart like the one below (or set up a simple spreadsheet on your computer) and record your daily walking time.
Walk This Way
There’s walking down a hallway, or in a mall, or to get to your car, and then there’s walking energetically for fitness for 45 minutes. You don’t need to worry much about your walking technique for the former, but for the latter you want to be sure your stride and body positioning is right. Following some good habits will boost your payoff and keep your joints, limbs, muscles, and torso healthy.
Warm up and stretch. Before you set off down the road, walk around to warm up your muscles, and then stretch for a few minutes. Here’s a good basic pre-walk leg stretch: Lean on a pole or other stationary object with both hands. Extend your left leg behind you and bend your right knee. Lean forward until you feel the muscles in your left calf stretch. Now reverse legs. Stretching after your walk is a great idea, too.
Perfect your technique. Using good form when you walk will increase the amount of fat and calories you burn and help prevent muscle and joint pain. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your workout.
- Stand tall with your spine elongated and your breastbone lifted. This allows room for your lungs to fully expand. Use the basic rule of good posture: Keep the top of your head as high as you can get it without standing on your toes.
- Keep your head straight with your eyes focused forward and your shoulders relaxed. Don’t let your shoulders slump or hunch toward your ears.
- Roll your feet from heel to toe. If you hear a slapping sound as you walk, you are probably landing on your full foot, not rolling through your step.
- As you speed up, take smaller, more frequent steps rather than longer steps. This protects your knees and gives your butt a good workout.
- Allow your arms to swing freely. No need to do any unnatural pumping; do what feels right.
- Firm your tummy and flatten your back as you walk to prevent low back pain.
Find your pace. You don’t have to (and should not) gasp and hurt to reap important health rewards. If you’re new to fitness walking, a brisk but comfortable pace will get your heart working hard. If you already walk for exercise, picking up the pace can help you get fit faster. Here’s how to set the right pace, whether you’re a beginning fitness walker or a veteran of the road
Beginners: Slow and Easy
Your top priority is regular walking, not setting new speed records. Focus on length of-time walking more than pace. Once you can comfortably walk continuously for more than 30 minutes, you can shift your attention to speed. Here’s how to find out if you’ve reached your max:
Breathe deeply as you walk to a count of 1-2-3. If you feel breathless and tired during a workout, you may be unintentionally holding your breath. Muscles need oxygen to create energy for movement, so try this as you walk: Inhale by expanding your tummy for a count of three, bringing air to the deepest part of your lungs. Then exhale fully through your nose or mouth, also to the count of three.
Take the talk test. Once you’re walking for 20 minutes or more each day, aim for a lively pace—the speed you’d reach if you were 10 minutes late for an appointment. Try reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as you walk. If you can get it out phrase by phrase with little pauses for breath in between, you’re right on target.
Add in fast bursts. Incorporating brief bursts of faster walking can increase your calorie burn by as much as 60 percent. Move at your usual speed for three to five minutes, and then walk even more briskly for one to two minutes. To pick up the pace, take short, quick steps; also bend your arms at 90 degrees and pump them quickly.
Start a Walking Routine
The best walking program is one that’s fun and fits into your life. Here are some strategies for making walking a regular part of your daily routine.
Roll out of bed and go. You’ll want to get dressed and put on some shoes first of course. And eating a light breakfast first is a good idea, too. But research shows that people who plan to work out in the morning are more likely to follow through than others who plan on exercising later in the day, when meetings, errands, and other distractions can get in the way.
Or walk in the evening. There is something wonderful about after-dinner walks. They get you away from the TV and out in the fresh air where you can say hello to neighbors and watch the sun set. Don’t let bad weather stop you, either—that’s why jackets, boots, and umbrellas were invented.
Build walks into your lunch routine. As mentioned, eating usually takes just a few moments; use the rest of the time allotted for a stroll. Even if it’s just around the perimeter of your office building!
Meet friends for walks, not food. We tend to arrange social events around food or drink. But rather than meeting your girlfriend for coffee or lunch, meet at the park and walk together.
Try a treadmill. If the climate where you live is often just too hot or too cold for comfort, consider investing in a treadmill. Price and space are key considerations, but try to find one with a long walking surface (you’ll feel less cramped, good shock absorption (to decrease wear and tear on your legs and feet, and a range of speeds and incline levels.
Go to an indoor track—with cash registers. Many malls open early for walkers. You could also easily walk for 20 minutes in a big warehouse store or at a Walmart or Kmart.
Eight Walks of Life
Avoid getting bored with the same old walking route or sticking to the same neighborhood. Here are eight ways to make putting one foot in front of another more exciting.
Opt for nice. Walk in the prettiest area in your town (or the next town over, even if it means you need to drive over. That could include down towns, parks, school campuses, or residential areas. According to studies, you’ll be more likely to make it a habit if you like your surroundings.
Take the entire family on your daily walks. You’ll be modeling good fitness habits for your children, and it’s cheaper than paying a sitter.
Pump up the volume. Research proves it: Listening to music while walking helps you walk longer, probably because you’re distracted by the songs and almost forget that you’re exercising.
Explore your world. Stroll down streets in your own neighborhood that you’ve never been on, or check out the hiking trail in a nearby park. Varying your terrain will keep you mentally engaged and work different leg muscles, improving the effectiveness of every outing.
Pick a charity. Sign up for a charity walk. Or donate $1 for every mile you walk for the next two weeks to a nonprofit group you believe in. Whoever thought exercise could be tax deductible?
Find a regular walking partner. You’re more likely to get out of bed on cold winter mornings or skip the cafeteria in favor of a lunchtime walk if someone is expecting you.
Take a dog with you. Once your dog gets used to your routine, he or she will never let you forget when it’s time for your walk. Don’t have a dog? Offer to walk an elderly neighbor’s dog twice a week.
Walk for entertainment one day a week. Walk through the zoo, an art museum, or an upscale shopping mall. First circle the perimeter of your location at your usual brisk pace. Then wander through again more slowly to take in the sights.
Once a week, complete your errands on foot. If you live far from town, drive to within a mile of your destination, park, and walk the rest of the way there and back.
Weather-Proof Your Walking
Walking for health has to be a habit that you practice and practice until its second nature to get out the door for your daily 45-minute session. In the beginning, especially, it’s easy to let nasty weather keep you inside. Do that a few times in a row and–bingo–your walking habit is history. Here, some clever tips to help you overcome the most common weather beaters.
Buy a pair of waterproof sneaks. If you live where winters are harsh, your regular walking shoes aren’t going to cut it. So put them on the shelf, head for a specialty retailer, and ask for a pair that’s “waterproof and breathable.” Make sure that describes the tongue of the shoes, too. Some manufacturers cut corners there, and the tongue will lap up moisture. Size the shoes a little bigger to accommodate thicker socks.
Warm your core. When your body senses cold, it decreases blood flow to your arms, legs, hands, and feet to protect vital organs. So keeping your torso warm is the secret to staying comfy. To do this, dress in fours:
- First, don a snug-fitting base layer made of a fabric (not cotton) that will wick moisture from your skin.
- Next, put on a bulkier mid-layer made of a fabric, such as fleece, that will insulate and continue to move moisture out. Vests are ideal for this, plus they free your arms to swing so you don’t end up moving like the Michelin man.
- Cover everything with a wind-and water-resistant jacket or shell to protect you from the elements. Choose a zippered model rather than a pullover, again for easy venting.
- Top off your outfit with a hat. Even though it has recently been shown that we lose only about 10 percent of our body heat through an uncovered head, that’s still significant.
Embrace the chill to start. You’ll know you’re dressed perfectly for winter walking if you’re chilled when you first step outside. You should feel like rubbing your hands together or jumping up and down. If you’re too warmly dressed, you’ll sweat, and evaporate cooling will make you feel cold. If you don’t like feeling chilly to start, then add an extra layer you can remove.
Pack some heat. If the cold makes your fingers tingle, put one of those little heat packs that skiers use inside each mitten. But since they’re pricey, here’s a trick: You can stretch their serviceability from the advertised eight to 12 hours to nearly a week by storing them in a small Tupperware container after each use. Since most brands are activated by oxygen, cutting off the supply preserves it.