Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sheepishly I'm a huge fan... of walking.

I can be pretty stubborn.

Something that I've been stubbornly wrong about it that walking is legitimate "exercise". I've always thought it wasn't strenuous enough or cardio enough to make a real fitness difference. Even with all the recommendations from "authorities" to walk more, I had my own theories about it. I thought that encouraging walking was just a "baby-step" to help unfit people get closer to being active. Maybe the thinking was if you could get people to walk more, they might really exercise someday.

Well, through a circuitous route I've landed myself in the "walking is better than" running, or cycling, or jogging, or _____________ camp.  When I take a brisk walk, I find that my insulin kicks in and works better, faster. If it can be seen on a CGMS I'm guessing the same things are happening in everyone that walks. For me, seeing the numbers at work has been very eye-opening.

What does walking have that other forms of activity might not?

It's low-impact. You aren't likely to develop injuries from repetitive actions that your body isn't ready for. Since you walk your whole life, it's the most natural way for you to get moving. (One summer I injured my achilles tendon from doing lots of dog-walking in flip-flops, but that was unusually foolhardy.)

It's accessible. You can walk in any clothing you have on (caution with flip-flops recommended). You can walk wherever you are. You can walk with people who don't normally "exercise". The barriers to getting it done are very few.

It's easy, and the heart rate is spot on. How many times have you done a serious run or bike ride and found yourself exercising at a level that makes you feel lousy and sore, and not look forward to doing it again? For me, if I exercise at a heart rate of over 155 bpm, I'm officially working too hard. I find it very hard to dial myself back to that level when I run or cycle. When I walk at a fast pace I don't think it's possible to breech the threshold into unhealthy exercise. We never return from a walk and think "Wow, I'm super exhausted!" From talking to others, I have found that most people tend to exercise above their target heart rate zone, and often are reluctant to get out there for another workout, because, frankly, it was uncomfortable. For this reason many athletes use heart rate monitors to keep themselves in check and keep from working at a rate that is too high. For me walking is always in the low end of the target heart rate window, and I don't need a heart rate monitor to tell me how fast to walk.

It reduces stress instead of causing it.
Excessive or overly strenuous exercise can cause you negative stress that can oftentimes be worse for your body that better. Cortisol (stress hormone) release from strenuous exercise is conter-productive to most people's fitness goals. Walking has very little risk of working against you this way.

Contrary to what I had previously thought, walking regularly this season has improved my readiness for other activities. Last summer when I began stand up paddling I found that I could only go out for 15-20 minutes before my legs got too shaky to keep going. This year, on my first day out I was able to go out three different times for about an hour without feeling fatigue in my legs. I think it has a lot to do with the regular activity throughout the winter that prepared my legs for long periods of balance work. That was unexpected. 

I'm not saying that everyone should stop doing the exercise that they find stimulating and fun, but that for baseline activity walking is safe, easy, accessible and useful. I began exercising much more frequently since I moved walking onto my exercise menu. If I could cycle, rock climb, cross-country ski, stand up paddle, hike, and kayak everyday I would be ecstatic. Until I retire and live in such a paradise, going for one or two 20 minute walks a day has been incredibly helpful in increasing my insulin sensitivity and correcting BG that is headed out of range.


  1. Hi Nathan,

    I was wondering if you accepted any guest posting on your site. I couldn’t manage to find your email on the site. If you could get a hold of me at, I would greatly appreciate it!


  2. I do a lot of long distance walking. I can't really run- but as a teenager I used to frequently walk 25 miles in a day.
    When I was 21, I developed over use tendinitis in one of my feet and since then my tendons have often threatened tendinitis when I do walks of more than 5 miles for more than two days in a row.
    I find that walking only impacts my blood sugar for the first few miles of the day, and if I do them rapidly, they can make a significant difference... if I walk slowly for an hour and then speed up, the impact to my blood sugar is almost nil.
    If I go a few days without walking I start needing so much insulin I start thinking it's expired or something.

    1. Jonah,
      You used to walk a lot of miles! I guess I can depend on you to take it to a new level. My average walk is only a 15-20 minute mile.

      That's an interesting point about the ramped up pace being a variable that might allow you to do more without a blood sugar drop.

      About thinking your insulin is expired or something... it just shows how much it impacts the body. I think I've been using the least insulin I ever have since I've been spending only 20-40 minutes walking everyday. It's definitely a factor!

  3. I can SO relate to this post! I have felt the same way about walking in the past and even after I had my twins and got back to exercising again, I skipped walking and went from being totally out of shape to running miles a day (gee I wonder how those subsequent injuries came about? lol) Lately I've discovered (through walking with the kids in the park, zoo, woods, etc) that walking is awesome for diabetes! And it keeps weight down! And while I don't feel very hardcore...I definitely feel the positive impact for the next 24-36 hours. Right now my kids don't fit in their double stroller and yet can't walk for too long without getting tired and needing to be carried but I hope that once they're older we'll do longer walks as a regular daily activity and like you mentioned as a baseline activity. Though I'm getting the added benefit of carrying 35 pounds for much of the walks which certainly helps. I'm curious, have you ever tried the kettlebell? I find that it's a great strength training workout that only takes a few minutes a day. I added 5 pounds of muscle using a 15 pound kettlebell in just 2 months. And 5 pounds is a lot on my small 5'3 frame. Not to mention it shoots my blood sugars down every time and gives me a free meal.

    1. Sysy,
      Glad you are getting the benefits of walking too! My exercise has always been sort of sporadic because I would typically over-do it and then not feel up to doing it for a while. I think walking is a great alternative and more sustainable.
      I'll have to check out the kettle bell. I have seen them and know people love them. Five pounds of muscle is a lot for anyone! I'll email you for some tips on using one sometime.

  4. I love walking too... Apart from all the benefits, there is just something exhilarating about getting to a point either far away (relatively) or high up without the use of any mechanical contrivance.

    1. Dad, I like the travel part of it too. I wish I could explore a new place every time I take a walk, but it's usually the same route around my neighborhood.
      You are the first person that I knew used walking to bring glucose back into range. It works really well!