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Walking & Diabetes

One doctor’s ‘prescription’ for better health

Family physician Robert Sallis, MD, has an interesting ‘prescription’ for many of his patients living with diabetes: walking! “I just sent several patients this morning to go get a pedometer and asked them to give me ten thousand steps a day. I consider walking a very powerful medication.”

While nearly all types of exercise may help manage blood sugar, “if we were going to prescribe just one type of activity, I think walking makes the most sense,” says Dr. Sallis, who is also a spokesperson for the Every Body Walk! campaign that aims to get Americans walking. “Practically everyone can do it. You already know how to do it. You can do it almost anywhere. You don’t need any special equipment. And it’s free!”

How to get started

First, talk to your doctor about starting a walking program, then “get a comfortable pair of walking shoes and socks and break them in gradually,” says Dr. Sallis. “Once your feet are outfitted in the right shoes, slowly build up to walking one hundred and fifty minutes weekly,” recommends Dr. Sallis. “If you haven’t exercised previously, start with just five to ten minutes a day, and do just a minute or two more each day. For the most benefits, you want to aim for thirty minutes five times a week. You can even break up your walks into three ten-minute bouts throughout the day if that makes it easier to fit exercise into your schedule.”

Along with planned walks, it’s also important that you stay active throughout the day. To counteract the downtime that you probably can’t avoid, such as time spent commuting, sneak in more walking when you can. Use the water fountain or bathroom that’s the farthest away from you at work. Do a lap or two around the grocery store or mall before you start shopping. Walk around the field as you watch your kid’s soccer game. Every step counts. Click here for more tips for getting started exercising.

Stick-with-it strategies

Once you’ve started to walk, these are some strategies to help you stay motivated:

Track your activity. You can do this by keeping a paper log, wearing a pedometer, using an app like Every Body Walks™ (available on iTunes®), or trying a high-tech activity monitor such as Fitbit Ultra™. Seeing your progress over time can inspire you to do more.

Recruit a walking partner or two. You’ll be less likely to skip a walk if you know someone is waiting for you. Make a pact with a co-worker to take a quick walk at lunchtime or on a break. Meet a neighbor for a morning or evening stroll. Schedule a weekend walk with a friend instead of catching up over coffee or lunch. Some people find adding a social aspect to their exercise helps make it more fun. 

Sign up for a walking event. Knowing that you have to be prepared to walk a 5K (3.1 miles) or whatever distance you decide on a specific date makes it harder to skip your training walks. You might be even more committed if you’re walking to help others by choosing a charity event like the American Diabetes Association’s Step Out Walk.

Enjoy walking outdoors year round

Dress in layers. As you warm up, you can take some off and then put them back on later. You should choose moisture-wicking fabrics for the layers closest to your body. For protection on top, try breathable fabrics that are wind and water-resistant.

Choose dark colors on top. They’ll absorb sunlight to keep you warmer.

Add a reflective vest. If you’re walking at dawn or dusk, it’s a must so drivers can see you.

Wear two pairs of gloves. Slip on a thin pair first. When you warm up, you can remove the heavy ones and still have some protection.

Wrap a scarf over your mouth and nose. This will warm the air as you inhale, making it easier to breathe on very cold or windy days.

Slip into a rugged sole. You may need to trade in your regular walking shoes for a sturdier, hiking style pair for better traction and more warmth.

Indoor strolling options

Hit the mall. Instead of shopping, walk laps. It’s warm, dry, and safe, and many malls open early so you can stroll before the shoppers arrive. Outdoor retail complexes are another option because they’re lit and the sidewalks and parking lots are cleared.

Take to the treadmill. If you have access to one, it can really help as the days get shorter and temperatures dip lower. For a safer workout, familiarize yourself with the controls before you hop on. Then, stand on the side rails as the belt starts moving. While at a slow speed, step on the belt and begin walking. You should aim to walk without holding onto the side rails, even if that means going at a slower pace. You’ll get a more effective workout if you stand tall and swing your arms. Some people find a TV with a favorite show can help make the time go more quickly.

Michele Stanten is a certified fitness instructor and freelance writer. Her work has appeared in Prevention, Shape, More, and other magazines. She is also on the Board of Directors for the American Council on Exercise. Stanten lives in Coopersburg, PA, with her husband, two children, and two cats. Stanten is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor and interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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