Spring has arrived! The snow is almost gone, the crocuses are out, and even the robins are hopping around the yard. With longer days and warmer temperatures, there’s really no excuse for not getting out of hibernation and moving those muscles! However, getting back into an active lifestyle after a long, cold winter curled up on the couch is easier said than done. Maybe the thought of joining a gym or training for a marathon is unappealing. What’s a good way to ease into physical activity? The answer is easy: Try walking!
Benefits of walking
Frankly, it’s hard to find a downside about walking. Cost? Practically nothing, other than investing in a good pair of sneakers or walking shoes. Convenience? You can walk anywhere — around the block, in the mall, in the nearest department store, around the park, at the airport…you name it, you can pretty much walk it. Practicality? That’s up to you, but walking is doable, rain, shine, cold, heat, as long as you’re smart about it and plan ahead. Safety? A definite concern for many people, but again, with some common sense (like walking in a group, on a school track, or at a shopping center), it’s doable.
What about health benefits? Many people have a belief that walking doesn’t provide much in the way of boosting health. That old saying, “no pain, no gain” rears its ugly head, tricking us into thinking that unless we’re sweating and huffing and puffing, walking doesn’t do that much good. Well, that’s just plain wrong. Here’s how you — and anyone else — can benefit from walking:
· Walking for just 15 minutes after dinner can lower blood sugar over 24 hours just as much as walking for 45 minutes, according to a 2013 study published in the journal Diabetes Care.
· Are you at risk for diabetes? Start walking at least 3500 steps each day to drop that risk by almost 30%.
· Walking for at least 30 minutes most days of the week can seriously cut your risk of heart disease.
· Kick it up a notch and aim to walk 1 hour a day to slash your risk of obesity in half.
· Older men can drastically lower their risk for getting a hip fracture by 43% to 62% by walking 4 or more hours per week.
· Feeling blue? Walking for 30 minutes each day can ease symptoms of depression by 36%.
· If you’re at risk for a stroke, get walking and drop your risk by 30%.
· Add another couple of years to your lifespan by walking for 75 minutes each week.
· Lower your chances of getting colon cancer by about 50% by walking at least three days a week.
The list could go on, but hopefully you get the point: Walking is a great way to help your diabetes control, boost your health, prevent other types of health issues, and give your spirits a lift. Who doesn’t want that?
If you haven’t been active for a long time, it’s wise to plan your course of action to keep you safe and prevent injury.
Get the green light. It’s always smart to talk with your doctor before starting any type of physical activity program. Walking is pretty much safe for most people, but if you have heart, eye, or kidney problems, it’s a good idea to find out if you need any special tests, such as a stress test, or if you should limit certain types of activity.
Dress for the part. Once you get the green light to start, make sure you have the right gear: Well-fitting shoes made for walking, along with socks that wick away moisture. Dress in layers in case it’s cool, and wear a reflective jacket if you’ll be walking outside when it’s dark.
Pave the way. If you’ll be walking outdoors, try to walk where there are paths or sidewalks, rather than walking in the road. Look out for cracks, potholes, rocks, branches, etc. Pay attention to where you’re stepping.
Start low, go slow. Don’t attempt to walk a long distance right out of the gate. For some people, walking 5 or 10 minutes may be all that they can do at first, which is perfectly fine. Keep at it and gradually build up. Also, start at a slow pace to allow your muscles to warm up. Unless otherwise prescribed by your doctor, aim to walk for at least 30 minutes, most days of the week. And it’s OK to break up your walks into smaller, more frequent segments if that works better for you.
Be prepared. If you’re at risk for having low blood sugars, bring a source of carbohydrate with you, like glucose tabs or gel or a small juice box. Also, wear or carry a form of medical identification that states that you have diabetes. Check your blood sugar before you start walking and again when you return. If lows become an issue, plan your walk for after a meal or talk with your diabetes team about making adjustments in your diabetes medicines.
Keep at it. Not everyone loves physical activity, especially when they’re getting started. No doubt there will be days when you would really rather stay in bed or catch up on the latest episode of House of Cards. Push yourself at these times and as the Nike slogan goes, “Just Do It.” You’ll feel better and your body will thank you.