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Top 10 Tips for Walking with Diabetes

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Updated May 31, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

The experts agree -- walking and other exercise is the prescription for people with diabetes. The American Diabetes Association says there is no restriction on what exercise diabetics can do, and it is the best way to prevent weight gain and cardiovascular disease -- the top killer of diabetics.

1. Get in the Walking Habit

Discovery Walk Festival Walkers on Renaissance Trail
International Walk Fest ©
Make exercise a regular part of your life. Experts agree that diabetics should exercise several days a week. To get started with walking, the free Walk of Life 10-Week Program includes daily walking and exercise assignments, lessons on how to walk, healthy recipes and nutrition tips. You can follow each daily page or join the daily newsletter version.
Walk of Life 10-Week Program

2. Choose the Right Shoes

ABEO AERO Armus Walking Shoes
Wendy Bumgardner © 2013
Taking care of your feet and preventing blisters is important for diabetics, as the disease slows wound healing. Properly fitted athletic shoes will help prevent blisters and other injuries, such as plantar fasciitis. The Walking Shoe Guide explains how to get fitted properly for walking shoes.
How to Choose the Right Shoes

3. Socks are Important

Walking Socks
Wendy Bumgardner ©
Socks are also a critical defense against blisters. Toss out your cotton socks; they retain sweat and can cause blisters. Get socks made of today's miracle fabrics (such as CoolMax and Ultimax) that wick away sweat and prevent blisters.
Before You Buy Walking Socks

4. Check Your Blood Sugar Levels

Check your blood sugar levels before and after walking.
Too low: below 100 mg/dl. If too low, you should eat some carbohydrates -- 15 to 30 grams.
Too high: over 250 mg/dl if Type 2, or over 200 mg/dl if Type 1. If too high, you need to postpone your walk until your blood sugar level lowers.
When out on a long walk, it is wise to check your blood sugar levels at regular intervals, especially if you are new to walking.
More: Exercise and Diabetes

5. When to Walk

The best time for walking is 1 to 2 hours after a meal, when your insulin and blood sugar levels have settled down. Morning exercise is recommended, since it avoids the peak insulin part of the day, especially for Type 1 diabetics.
More: Diabetes Pre-Workout Checklist

6. Your Insulin Dosage May Change

Your insulin requirements will change with exercise. When starting a walking program or increasing your amount of exercise, consult with your physician regularly on how to adjust your medications.
More: Insulin Use in Diabetes

7. Drink Enough!

Drink up to prevent dehydration, which you may not notice until it is too late. Have a big glass of water an hour before walking, then drink a cup of water every 20 minutes while walking. At the end of your walk, drink another big glass of water. For long, hot walks of 2 hours or more, consider a sports drink that replaces salts, but check the carbohydrate content on the label.
More: Drinking for Fitness Walkers

8. Eating and Walking

Carry a snack for when you or your walking partner detects signs of low blood sugar. After walking, you may need to eat more carbohydrates than usual to prevent delayed hypoglycemia. Especially when starting or increasing your walking program, be extra aware of symptoms and signs, listen to your body, and consult your doctor with any questions on diet.
More: Exercise with Diabetes

9. Know the Signs of Hypoglycemia

When walking, stay aware of your body and how you are feeling. It can be difficult to tell whether you are sweating from exertion or hypoglycemia. Here are symptoms, courtesy of NIH: feeling weak, drowsy, confused, hungry, and dizzy. Paleness, headache, irritability, trembling, sweating, rapid heart beat, and a cold, clammy feeling. In severe cases, you could lapse into a coma.
More: Hypoglycemia

10. Buddy Up and Wear an Alert Bracelet

Walking with a partner or walking club has several benefits. First, you can have him watch you for signs of low blood sugar and nag you to take care of yourself. Second, walking with somebody else keeps you more regular in your exercise. In any case, wear a medical identification bracelet that says you have diabetes. That is critical in a medical emergency.
More: How to Find Walking Companions

References:

"What I need to know about Physical Activity and Diabetes." NIH Publication No. 04–5180. June 2004

"Walking: A Step in the Right Direction." NIH Publication No. 07–4155. September 2004. Updated March 2007
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