Living with Diabetes

More on Exercise for People with Diabetes – Walking


Walking is one of the easiest and cheapest forms of exercise you can think of. It requires no equipment and certainly does not require you to pay a subscription to a gym. Walking is a suitable type of exercise for people of all ages and should not do any harm in the vast majority of people with diabetes.

How does walking help?

Walking is beneficial in people with diabetes for a variety of reasons

  1. helps burn off excess energy and control blood sugar
  2. helps improve how your body responds to insulin (improves your insulin sensitivity)
  3. helps control body weight
  4. reduces your risk of heart attacks and strokes (cardiovascular risk)
  5. improves your blood fat levels (cholesterol and triglycerides). It also makes your lipid profile less ‘atherogenic’ i.e less likely to cause fat deposition in the blood vessels.
  6. aerobic exercise helps overall mood and improves your outlook. Mental well being contributes a great deal to effective blood sugar control.
  7. will help you sleep better.

Over a period of time regular exercise derived from walking will help reduce the risk of complications of diabetes.

What’s particularly good about walking?

Walking is a form of exercise which does not require a special routine. You do not have to set aside time for it as you can incorporate walking into your daily life. Walking to work or taking the stairs rather than the lift are some examples. It is also a form of exercise you can do in groups if you wish.

How much walking should I do each day?

It is widely recommended that twenty minutes to half an hour of aerobic exercise is taken each day. You should walk at your own pace and avoid over-exerting yourself particularly if you have had any symptoms of heart disease or poor circulation.

Any precautions I should take?

  • Wear well fitting shoes.
  • Inspect your feet daily especially if you have neuropathy or poor circulation.
  • Use plenty of emulsifying cream on your feet.
  • Keep your feet clean and dry.
  • After a long walk always inspect your feet for signs of redness, blisters and cuts.
  • Take precautions to avoid hypoglycaemia

Practical advice on getting started

Plan your day so as to incorporate half an hour of walking. If you are one of the lucky few who can walk to work this will be easy. If you find you lack time due to early starts and late finish plan your exercise over the weekend – it is better than having none at all !

Do not try to get fit overnight. Avoid over exerting yourself. If you are too ‘out of breath’ to have a conversation while walking you are probably doing too much. Walk briskly but don’t overdo it.

If you do not have a park or countryside readily accessible and really have nowhere else to walk, a treadmill provides a useful though costly solution. If using a treadmill, set it up so that you can walk while doing something ‘inactive’ such as listening to music or watching television.

Many areas have local organised walks where you can meet up with others interested in keeping fit through regular walking.

A note of caution

If you have heart disease or have had problems with your feet, talk to your doctor before commencing a programme of exercise. Those who have Charcot arthropathy of the feet or severe neuropathy or peripheral vascular disease will have limitations placed on the amount of walking they do. Severe ischaemic heart disease or heart failure will also restrict activity.

And finally, if you are lucky enough to live in Suffolk …

See the page Healthy Walking for lists of locally organised walks.


Dr Nishan Wijenaike
Consultant Physician
West Suffolk Hospital NHS Trust
Bury St Edmunds
August 2006