Why People with Type 2 Diabetes Should Start a Walking Program

Today, more than 145 million adults in the United States include walking as part of a physically active lifestyle, and this staple exercise continues to grow in popularity. After all, walking can be done just about anywhere and, for most, is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.

Exercise is an especially beneficial and critical component of the treatment plans for the nearly 28 million Americans living with type 2 diabetes. However, maintaining a fitness routine can be challenging, and while people may recognize that they need to exercise regularly, they may not know where to start. That’s why AstraZeneca and the Diabetes Hands Foundation launched the Everyday Steps walking program, which features a walking guide with 12 motivational tips to help people with type 2 diabetes start a daily walking routine – and stick with it.

Dr. Sheri Colberg, a professor of exercise science at Old Dominion University and adjunct professor of internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School, recognizes how walking can benefit people with type 2 diabetes. 

For the past two decades, Dr. Colberg’s research has been devoted to exercise and type 2 diabetes, and ultimately, the benefits physical activity has on overall health. She’s also the author of 10 health-related publications focused on type 2 diabetes. Here, she helps to address some questions about the barriers people with type 2 diabetes may face when it comes to sticking to an exercise routine and how to push past them.

What are the biggest concerns you hear when you talk to people with type 2 diabetes about exercise?

Dr. Colberg: I see exercise as being the biggest challenge for them. In addition to managing other components of their treatment plan, many adults with type 2 diabetes can find maintaining a fitness regimen challenging and are unsure of how to get started. They think it might be dangerous, or they might be intimidated. They need to find activities that work for them. The goal is to find an activity that will allow them to start slowly – and progress slowly – in order to avoid injury and loss of motivation. What’s important to remember is that becoming more active means that they have the opportunity to gain more energy and feel more invigorated.

But, still there are barriers. Do you think that people are often overwhelmed by the idea of starting an exercise routine?

Dr. Colberg: Of course. But, the important thing to remember is that even if people have missed their scheduled fitness activity, they can still find ways to be active during the day. For example, they can add more steps as they go about their daily activities. Exercise doesn’t necessarily have to be structured. Exercise needs to be thought of as an active lifestyle, as opposed to a task or chore.

That’s a great point. Why is walking in particular a recommended form of physical activity for people with type 2 diabetes?

Dr. Colberg: Walking is a moderate and accessible activity and, most importantly, an excellent place to start in terms of beginning an exercise routine. Not only does walking help people with type 2 diabetes increase their fitness levels, but it also helps control blood glucose levels and improves the body’s ability to use insulin.

What are some quick tips to help people start and stay motivated with a walking routine?

Dr. Colberg: The key is to stop thinking of walking as a significant undertaking. Like the Everyday Steps guide suggests, using devices like a pedometer or smartphone app can help determine baseline fitness levels and track progress by adding steps as you go. Each time you walk, you can add a few more steps, so you are growing a healthy habit that becomes easier.

Besides walking, what other types of exercise can help people manage their type 2 diabetes?

Dr. Colberg: It’s beneficial to add resistance training to a fitness routine. As people age, it’s important to maintain as well as gain muscle mass. Resistance training can be a variety of things – using body weight, for example, planks, lunges, wall sits or resistance bands, hand weights and household items like full water bottles.

What is the most important message you’d like to share with people who have recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes?

Dr. Colberg: It’s important for them to commit to making long-term changes. By making small lifestyle changes in diet and adding more steps here and there, these small efforts end up having a large impact on their ability to manage diabetes.

To learn more about the Everyday Steps walking program and find tips to help people with type 2 diabetes find the motivation to start and maintain a walking routine, check out the walking guide at www.everydaystepsguide.com. Before beginning a fitness program, it’s important to talk to a doctor for guidance.