Walking Healthily with Type 2 Diabetes

by Nicky Jacquiery

If you have type 2 diabetes and you’re unsure whether walking is appropriate and safe for you, I hope I can allay your fears and help convince you that you can go walking. This gentle exercise can be modulated to suit your needs, so it’s the perfect way to stay fit. All you need to do is take a few sensible precautions.

What is type 2 diabetes?

For anyone reading along who does not have diabetes themselves, type 2 diabetes is the most common type. It occurs when your blood glucose level is too high either because the body isn’t producing enough of the hormone insulin or because that insulin isn’t working effectively.

How walking can help

Increasing your activity will help to slow the progress of type 2 diabetes, so finding the right fitness routine is key for controlling the condition.

Walking is recognised as one of the best forms of activity for anyone, which makes it a great contender. It’s easy, not to mention convenient: you can walk anytime and anywhere! You don’t need any specialist equipment and you can go at a pace that’s comfortable for you, building up slowly as and when you want to.

A family sits to admire a forest below.
A walking trail climbs Roseberry Topping.
A couple walk their dog.

Walking also has many other benefits for your diabetes and your overall health, including:

  • Improving your blood glucose levels;
  • Improving your body’s ability to use insulin effectively;
  • Reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke;
  • Lowering your stress levels, making you feel better emotionally;
  • Strengthening your bones, which is increasingly important as we get older;
  • Helping you to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight, especially if you increase the speed of your walks;
  • Walking at a brisk pace burns more calories and increases your heart rate, giving your body a better work out;
  • Helping you to sleep better.

A young woman wanders at her own pace through a field of sheep toward the woodland and hills ahead.

Important precautions to take

1. Talk to your doctor or diabetes team and check that it’s okay for you to start walking as a way of increasing your activity levels. Your doctor or diabetes team will be able to give you advice about how you should manage your diabetes before, during and after your walk.

2. Check your blood glucose before you set off on a walk and when you get back. Also check your blood glucose when you’re out if it’s a longer walk. Regularly checking your blood glucose levels will give you an idea of how walking affects your diabetes. Perhaps start with a short walk and monitor your diabetes, and slowly build the length of your hikes over time.

3. If your blood glucose is below a certain level before you start your walk, you may need to consume some carbohydrates before you go. Again, your doctor or diabetes team will be able to advise you.

4. Carry glucose with you in case you have a hypo when you’re out on a walk.

5. Keep some medical ID accessible.

6. Walk with a family member or a friend initially, especially if you’re worried about having a hypo. Knowing there is someone else with you may reduce your fears and encourage you to go out. Do make sure that they know how to recognise a hypo and what to do to treat one.

7. If you go out for a walk by yourself, tell someone where you are going and how long you expect to be out. This should be the standard practice for anyone walking in the countryside alone, and ensures someone will be looking for you in the event something goes wrong.

8. If you don’t have anyone to go out with and you don’t want to walk by yourself, why not try a walking group? There are walks catering for all abilities and you’ll have the reassurance of always being with other people

Although it can be easy to focus on what could potentially go wrong when you’re walking, try and think about the benefits for your diabetes and your overall health. Now that we’re approaching summer, there’s no better time to give it a go!

An older couple walk along a path toward a field of cows, an example of the gentle exercise that can help with diabetes.

Originally published 20/03/18

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