Getting fit is the second most important thing you can do to beat your type 2 diabetes. But you don’t have to go to the gym or start jogging. A good fast walk—a power-walk—is all the exercise you need. Here are some tips to get you moving safely and comfortably.
The most important thing you can do to postpone almost indefinitely the horrendous outcomes that are the fate of diabetics is to eat a plant-focused diet.
The second most important thing you need to do is to get some regular exercise.
However you don’t have to go to a gym and work up a sweat, though this would be an excellent thing to do. Nor do you need to go jogging.
In fact, the pounding your feet get from jogging can be hurtful, especially if your disease has progressed to the point where you are experiencing problems with your feet due to diabetic neuropathy.
There are plenty of sports you can take up—golf or swimming for instance—that will give you plenty of exercise. But the best is power-walking. You can also do it anywhere.
A good, fast walk on a daily basis will be immensely beneficial. In fact it’s all the exercise you need to beat your diabetes.
Firstly, of course, you should check with your doctor to make sure power-walking is OK for you given your particular circumstances.
Benefits of power-walking
Power-walking is walking briskly, moving your arms as well as your legs, rather than sauntering along in a casual way.
This kind of walking is a form of aerobic exercise, an activity that increases your heart rate for an extended period of time.
Aerobic exercise has many benefits:
- It strengthens your heart, lungs and muscles.
- It lowers your blood pressure.
- It can improve your mood and energy.
- It helps prevent and reduce symptoms of depression.
- It keeps your bones healthy, reducing your risk of osteoporosis.
- It helps you maintain your optimum weight through calorie burn.
Setting power-walking goals
To benefit most from power-walking, you need to set yourself a few goals.
 Aim for a minimum of four power walks a week, preferably five. I do a power-walk every day when possible and usually never miss more than one day a week, as I find fitness drops off rapidly after a break of just a day or so.
 You should start off with walks of only 20 minutes or so for the first week. You can increase your walks by 5 minute intervals as you get fitter until you are doing 60 minutes a day.
 There is no need to do all your day’s walking in one session. You can break it up into two or three walks a day. Personally I try for 60 minutes plus a day, broken into three or four sessions of 15 to 20 minutes each throughout the day.
How to power walk
Here are some tips to help you reap the benefits of power-walking and stay free of injury:
Wear quality runners: the shoes you use should fit well and be flexible and comfortable. Make sure that they are wide enough for your feet, with well-cushioned heels, good support and plenty of space for your toes.
Your footwear should be able to absorb shocks, especially as you are diabetic and may be developing problems with your feet. Runners with gel inside their soles are the best, in my view, for absorbing the shocks of walking rapidly on cement or concrete.
Check the condition of your shoes regularly and consider changing them every six months or so, or every year at the most.
Warm-up: start with a few stretching exercises. Here are two simple ones I use.
In the first, I lean against a wall, my hands flat on the wall and my feet stretched out backwards, so that my body makes an angle of approximately 45 degrees with the wall. I stretch my calf muscles by straightening my knees and bending my ankles.
In the second stretching exercise, I simply stand upright and raise one leg up behind me, bending at the knee. I grab my ankle and bring my foot up as close as it will go to my backside. I repeat with the other leg.
These exercises stretch your leg, back, chest and shoulder muscles.
Once you’ve done a bit of stretching to get your body in the mood, start strolling at a casual pace. After a minute or so, pick up speed for the remainder of your walk.
Don’t slouch: pay attention to your posture.
Keep your head up, your stomach in and your shoulders relaxed. Lift up your chest so you can fill it with air and flex your abdominal muscles as you breathe.
Stride naturally: the length of your step should be natural and comfortable. Avoid extra-long strides.
Straighten your leg as it moves forward but don’t make it so straight that your upper and lower leg form a straight-line through your knee. Just straighten it to an extent that feels natural.
Land on your heel, instead of the middle or front of the foot, and roll your weight forward towards the ball of the foot as you other leg moves forward. Again, as you naturally would when walking quickly.
Swing your arms: swinging your arms will help propel you forward and move faster.
Just let your arms swing freely, keeping them bent at the elbow in a natural way. Make sure you keep your shoulders relaxed and don’t tense up your neck or back.
Don’t use hand weights. All they’ll do is put stress on your shoulders and elbows.
Wind down: slow down to a slower pace for the last 5 minutes or so, allowing yourself to cool off naturally.
Then you can do a few stretching exercises, just like the ones you did to warm up, if you like.
Ramping it up
There are several things you can do to increase the exercise value of your power-walk. However you should perhaps wait until you are well used to power-walking before trying these.
Intervals are great for boosting your endurance and weight loss. All you have to do is speed up for a minute or so every five minutes and then revert to your regular pace.
Other exercises: you can sneak in other exercise partway through your power-walk when you are in a park. Do some star-jumps (jumping jacks) on grass or a few press-ups on a park bench.
Vary the terrain: most of us power-walk on concrete footpaths (sidewalks) which is pretty easy with the right kind of footwear. Walking on gravel, sand or even grass can be a bit harder as grip becomes less sure. But you’ll burn more calories.
Uphill: power-walking uphill increases the exercise value of every 100 metres you walk and builds leg muscle quicker than walking on the flat. Try it.
But be careful going back down a hill. Take shorter steps and walk more slowly to reduce the pressure on your knees.
A weighted vest is used by many athletes. Wearing one while walking requires the muscles in your lower body to generate more force. This can increase your metabolic rate and the intensity of the exercise, and may lead to gains in strength and power. It may also help strengthen your bones.
Your weighted vest should not be too heavy. It should not exceed ten percent of your body weight and, preferably, should be less than five percent.
Rather than wearing a weighted vest, you could try putting an ankle weight on each leg. This should have a similar effect on the exercise value of your power-walking.
Have fun—get fit!