The Benefits of Walking for Diabetes

The importance of walking when you have diabetes.

Many people underestimate the benefits of walking when thinking of getting into shape or losing weight. Getting in shape doesn’t have to be difficult, strenuous, or painful. Running, participating in intense workouts, and getting out of breath aren’t necessary to live a long and healthy life. In fact, according to Harvard, the five best exercises you can do are:

  1. Swimming
  2. Tai Chi
  3. Strength Training
  4. Walking
  5. Kegel Exercises

Of the five exercises listed above, walking is one of the most straightforward exercises to perform and maintain throughout your life.

Always discuss exercise with your doctor BEFORE starting any kind of exercise program. This is especially important if you are on medications. Full disclaimer here.

Benefits of Walking

According to Mayo Clinic, regular brisk walking can help you:

  • Maintain a healthy weight and lose unwanted body fat
  • Prevent or manage conditions such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer, and type 2 diabetes
  • Improve your cardiovascular fitness
  • Improve endurance
  • Increase energy
  • Improve your mood, ability to think, memory, and sleep
  • Improve balance and coordination
  • Help strengthen the immune system
  • Help reduce stress

Two women outside walking for exercise.

Walking helps your body with blood flow, which allows important organs receive blood, oxygen, and nutrients. The more time you spend sedentary, the more likely you will develop complications. The more sedentary your lifestyle becomes, the more at risk you become for developing major health complications, both physical and mental.

Not only do we need to look at the benefits of walking, but we should also consider some symptoms of poor circulation, which include:

  • Weakened immune system
  • Sores healing slowly
  • Lack of energy or concentration
  • Thinning of hair or hair loss
  • Erectile dysfunction

Some causes of poor blood circulation can be artery disease, obesity, uncontrolled diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, anemia, and untreated blood clots.

Benefits of Walking for Diabetes

Lower Blood Sugar

For people with diabetes, brisk walking helps lower blood sugar levels over time. Due to your heart beating faster and you breathing harder, your muscles use more glucose (sugar), causing your pancreas to increase insulin production. This sugar typically comes from your bloodstream, which causes your overall blood sugar levels to go down.

Increase Insulin Sensitivity

According to previous studies, insulin sensitivity increases with aerobic exercise, like walking, by increasing the expression of serum adiponectin and decreasing the expression of RBP4. Adiponectin impacts insulin sensitivity in your liver and your skeletal muscles, which are attached to your bones to help you move. It also increases the amount of insulin released from your pancreas and enhances basal glucose uptake in fat tissues. Think of basal glucose as your overall blood sugar levels. People with type 1 diabetes will take basal insulin each day to lower their baseline blood sugar levels and take fast-acting insulin to respond to eating food for each meal.

Improved Balance

Woman walking outside to improve balance.Walking helps build your lower-body strength and core, which in turn helps improve your overall balance. Balance can be troublesome for people with diabetes, especially those with nerve damage or blood vessels near the ear, which helps control balance. As a result, both hearing loss and balance are complications caused by diabetes due to the damage caused to your vestibular system (the sensory system that creates the sense of balance and spatial orientation to coordinate movement with balance in vertebrates).

How Many Steps?

How far should you walk each day? Most credible sources recommend that you walk 10,000 steps daily, which may seem like many steps. Depending on how tall you are or how long your stride is, that distance will differ for each person. Walking 1 mile should be somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 steps. Using that math, the expectation is that everyone walks somewhere around 5 miles each day (again, this is a rough estimation to help put into perspective how far 10,000 steps is).

If you are curious as to why 10,000 steps is the recommendation, it is believed to be a number that originated in the mid-1960s when Japanese marketers were trying to sell a pedometer. The Japanese character for the number 10,000 slightly resembles a person walking. Although the origin is an arbitrary number, there is science that is supportive of this number.

A study was conducted with participants walking a different number of steps daily: 2,000, 4,000, 6,000, and 10,000 steps. Cardiovascular disease risk fell as the number of steps increased. The most active group had less than half the number of cardiovascular disease events as the least active group.

Since everyone has a different level of activity throughout the day, it is recommended that you get 10,000 or more steps in a day. If you are currently getting 10,000 steps in a day without doing anything extra, then it may make sense to try and increase your steps by 500 each week until you reach a goal of 12,000 or even 15,000 steps. Try to find a goal that is both reasonable and sustainable.

If you can only get 500 steps in a day, then work on slowly making gains weekly. Keep in mind that the goal should be to make overall progress. Don’t get hung up on a number or get upset if you cannot reach your goal for a day. The cumulative effect of making an effort to increase your daily steps will help improve your overall health.

For those seeking innovative ways to incorporate more movement into their daily routine, a game-changing solution lies in the combination of a walking pad and an adjustable desk. This dynamic duo allows you to seamlessly integrate physical activity into your workday without disrupting productivity. By placing a walking pad under your adjustable desk, you create a workspace where walking becomes part of your workflow.

This innovative approach not only enhances your focus and energy levels but also promotes a healthier work-life balance. To explore more about how the walking pad and adjustable desk can revolutionize your daily routine, check out our in-depth article. Discover the practicality and benefits of this fitness combo that extends beyond the traditional concept of work and wellness.

The Importance of Form

Walking is something we do throughout our entire life. Some people have walking abnormalities beyond their control, which can be caused by cuts, bruises, bone fractures, or diseases affecting the leg, spine, brain, or nerves. Some of these include injuries, infections, congenital disabilities, tendonitis, arthritis, psychological disorders, or nervous system disorders.

For others, they may have poor form while walking and don’t even realize it, as it just becomes a way of life. Walking places stress throughout your entire body, and walking with poor form or posture has several adverse outcomes. This could be caused by overstriding, walking flat-footed, not using arms to assist or using arms incorrectly, walking with the head pointed down, leaning too much, or wearing inadequate shoes.

So what does good form look like when walking? Standing tall is an excellent overall concept to follow, as this helps correct many bad habits from poor form, such as hunching over, looking down, or leaning. Keep your eyes up and look forward into the distance. Your shoulders should be back but still relaxed and in a down position. Your shoulders should control your arms as they swing front to back without going above your chest. Try to keep your abs slightly engaged and step lightly (don’t stomp or walk with heavy heels).

Here is a video from physical therapists Bob and Dave sharing how to walk correctly. If you have 12 minutes to watch the video, we recommend you take the time to do so. As mentioned, many people who have poor form when walking don’t even know that they have poor form.

The Importance of Gear


Close up view of man bending down to tie his blue walking shoes. The single most important item to consider when walking is shoes. Wearing shoes that don’t fit your foot correctly or old shoes that no longer provide proper support can lead to many complications or injuries. This is one area where spending a little extra money for a better quality shoe is worth doing so if you can.

Here are things you should consider when selecting the most appropriate walking shoe:

  • What is the terrain like where you will be walking?
  • How many miles do you typically walk in a week?
  • Will you be running? If so, what distance?
  • What is your running experience (if you are a novice runner, then form may be a concern for you and support)?
  • What injuries do you typically get when walking or running (shin splints, knee pain, foot pain, arch pain, lower leg pain)
  • What direction do your feet point when walking (in, out, or straight forward)?
  • How important are balance and stability for you?
  • How do your knees respond when you do squats?
  • How flexible are your hamstrings?
  • How responsive do you want your shoes to be with each step?

Many athlete injuries are caused by their shoes or by poor form. In many cases, finding the correct shoe for the athlete helps eliminate their injuries. If you are new to shoes and knowing what type of shoe may be best for you, Total Diabetes Wellness recommends trying a pair of Brooks running shoes. This is because of their 90-day return policy, 365-day unworn policy, and the shoe finder they provide for their customers. Be sure to click on the Shoe Finder icon in the top left of the page to start the process.

Brooks shoes can also help against planters fasciitis and other foot injuries (see your podiatrist for help). Total Diabetes Wellness recommends wearing shoes that have been fit for your feet for at least two months, as they may feel uncomfortable at first due to your feet and body not being used to properly fitting shoes. The hope is that you will see noticeable improvements in your feet and less soreness when walking.

If you are unsure what size to get, we suggest going to a shoe store where a specialist can help you find the correct size. Shoes too small or too large will most likely cause blisters and can lead to discomfort or injury.


Because your feet can get sweaty when walking, look for a pair of socks with dry-fit material that will help keep your feet from getting blisters, as this fabric wicks away the wetness from the skin. Be sure to change your socks at least once a day.

Water Bottle

Some people prefer not to carry a water bottle when running or walking. However, if you are going on a longer walk, it is a good idea to bring a water bottle in case you get injured or lost. Water will help keep you hydrated and your body temperature regulated.

Protective Gear

Be sure to wear reflective clothing (especially if walking early or late in the day), sunscreen, bug repellant, sunglasses, and/or a rain jacket if needed. If you have health problems, you should bring any medical cards, medicine, or identification in case of an emergency.


A pedometer to help track your steps, a smartwatch, or a phone with a step counter can help motivate you. Your phone can also track your routes or provide a way to contact someone in an emergency. Many smartphones can be used as a flashlight as well. You may want to bring some earbuds to listen to music; however, Total Diabetes Wellness suggests that you be sure that the volume is at a level in which you can still be aware of your surroundings, such as someone honking their horn or emergency sirens.

First Aid Kit

It may be important to bring insulin, sugar pills, or anything else that may help keep you safe while on your walk, especially if you are going for a longer walk. Also, don’t forget to include anything else that may be required for your needs.

Becoming and Staying Motivated

Start Slow

Man walking on a treadmill for exercise. Keep it simple. Total Diabetes Wellness recommends tracking your steps for an entire week before setting any goals. By getting an average number of steps over a week, you establish a baseline that you can use to set realistic and safe goals. It may not make sense to use steps as short goals throughout the day, especially if you only have 10 minutes over lunch to walk after you finish eating. The main focus is to incorporate several shorter walks throughout the day to reach your goal. It is healthier to perform several short walks throughout the day than to get all of your steps in at one time and then be sedentary for the rest of the day.

Make Walking Enjoyable

Walking isn’t enjoyable for everyone. If this is the case for you, look for a friend, neighbor, or coworker you can walk with to help reach your goal. Having a walking partner helps keep both of you accountable and makes the walk more enjoyable by being able to talk to someone while you walk. If you are a social person, consider joining a walking or running group.

Change Things Up

If you walk inside a lot, consider walking outside when the weather is nice. Consider walking different routes so that you see and experience new things. Look for parks or walking trails that you can explore. As you get in better shape, consider looking for trails or routes incorporating hills or stairs. Consider changing your pace to where you walk briskly for 5 minutes and then walk at a normal pace for 5 minutes, continuing to alternate throughout your route.

Don’t Stress About Missed Days

It’s important to realize that life happens. The only certainty in life is uncertainty. Missing a day or not reaching your goal isn’t going to undo all of your progress. The cumulative effect of creating and maintaining a walking routine will far outweigh some days that you may miss due to life happening.

Tracking Progress

Total Diabetes Wellness suggests using an app or keeping a daily (physical or digital) log of how many steps you take each day. Use this data to help set reasonable goals as well as help adjust your goals if your schedule is going to change for the day or the week. Set goals that fit your life and your routine. There is no requirement to have the same goal every day for an entire week.

How to Get Started Safely

Group of people walking outside on a trail. Be sure to consult your doctor if you have any health conditions or concerns about your health before starting any new physical activity. Changes in your daily activities can also change how your body responds to some medications.

Be sure to let someone know what route you plan on walking, especially if you are walking alone. An app to track your location with a loved one is a great way to keep your location known. You should also consider turning the location settings on your phone. Walking with someone else or in a group would be the safest option.

Be sure to choose well-lit trails that are not isolated. Secluded trails could be dangerous, or routes through parts of a city or town that you are unfamiliar with could pose a potential problem. Be aware of your surroundings. This includes other people, vehicles, buildings, or anything else that could threaten your well-being.

The Bottom Line

Walking is one of the best exercises to live a healthier and longer life. Just 30 minutes of walking daily can increase your cardiovascular fitness, strengthen bones, reduce excess body fat, and reduce your risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and some cancers.

For people with diabetes, walking every day helps lower blood glucose levels and improves the body’s ability to use insulin. When insulin sensitivity increases, the cells in the body can use glucose more effectively. Type 1 diabetes requires insulin, which can cause weight gain. Insulin sensitivity makes it easier for fat loss, decreases the risk of all diseases (including Alzheimer’s), increases brain health and cognition, and makes you less likely to experience cravings.

Because balance can be such a big concern for people with diabetes, primarily type 1 diabetes, walking is an exercise that is relatively safe and improves your overall sense of balance by strengthening your core. Not only will walking improve your overall physical health, but walking will improve your mood and overall happiness.