The key to managing our blood glucose? It may be as simple as taking a walk. Walking significantly decreases our blood glucose level, according to a recent meta-analysis. This analysis of 18 studies involving 20 randomized clinical trials including 866 people with type 2 diabetes found that on average it cuts the typical A1C level from the equivalent of 6.5 to 6.0.
This is especially good news for us because walking is “the activity of choice” for people with diabetes. This has long been the way that about half of us get our exercise, according to a nationwide survey.
Do it your way
It can be performed at a variety of speeds with different intensities. I prefer to do my walking slowly on long hikes in nature, but even walking through a mall helps a lot.
While a good pair of boots can help when we are in the wilderness, it doesn’t require any special footwear or gear. You don’t need any skill to walk besides what you learned when you were one year old.
You don’t have to ask your doctor for a sophisticated pre-exercise evaluation. Unless your walking is actually jogging or running, you are unlikely to hurt yourself doing it.
You can walk any time you feel like it. Other studies, which I recently reviewed here at Walking at Mealtime Reduces Blood Glucose Best, show that when you take a walk before or after a big meal you can make a huge impact on your blood glucose, especially if you eat lots of starch or sugar. But if you follow a very low-carb diet, you can take your stroll the first thing in the morning or the last thing at high or any time in between and still benefit greatly.
Other aerobic exercise
Walking is a form of aerobic exercise, also known as cardio. This type of exercise requires pumping of oxygenated blood by the heart to deliver oxygen to working muscles. My article here four years ago, Exercise to Control A1C, reported on an earlier meta-analysis that found aerobic exercise in general to reduce A1C more than resistance training does. Other examples of aerobic exercise besides walking include bicycling and swimming.
In particular, swimming is a great alternative if for some reason you aren’t able to walk well. You can get benefits from it equivalent to what walking offers.
Other health benefits from walking
If you can walk, do it. Glucose control is key for our success in managing our diabetes, and walking has now been proven to help. But earlier meta-analyses showed us that walking can also improve our risk factors for heart disease, like high blood pressure, weight, and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.
Many of us got type 2 diabetes after years of being what researchers politely call “sedentary.” I accept that for myself. I was never what some people call less charitably “a couch potato,” because I didn’t spend a lot of time watching television. But in the years before my diagnosis I did spend a lot of time at my desk, working as a magazine editor. I just didn’t spend what little leisure time I had doing something as enjoyable as walking.
I’ve changed. Any of us can.
See more of my articles about how to manage diabetes: