8 Simple Steps to a Diabetes Walking Plan

With a little planning, you can create a program to keep you fit for the long term.

a middle aged Black woman and a middle aged white woman enjoy each other's company as they set out for a walk in the park

Updated on February 28, 2024.

Walking is one of the easiest, lowest-impact exercises you can do. A walking plan can help you get fit, feel more energized, and reach fitness goals while you manage your diabetes. 

Many experts encourage people to walk 10,000 steps daily (roughly equivalent to about 5 miles) for optimal health and fitness. But there’s actually not much evidence to support 10,000 as a magic number. Plus, if you’re new to your fitness regimen, 10,000 can be a tall order.

The good news is that you can benefit from increasing your daily step count no matter your starting point. A 2020 review of studies published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that for each increase of 1,000 daily steps, participants saw significant decreases in risk of heart disease and overall mortality risk.

Looking for a milestone to aim for? Research shows that the health benefits really start to kick in around 7,000 steps per day.

The benefits of walking for people with diabetes have an even greater impact. Walking just 30 minutes every day can improve blood glucose control, in part by helping muscles absorb sugar from the bloodstream. Walking for fitness also can help people at risk for diabetes maintain a healthy weight and improve cholesterol levels. 

The health benefits of walking are countless, so what are you waiting for? Use these simple steps to create your own diabetes walking program: 

Step 1: Gear up

You don’t need much to get out the door and start walking, but it’s important to consider a few things. First, be sure you have the right shoes. Proper walking shoes make a big difference for comfort, endurance, and injury prevention to the feet and joints, which is particularly important for people with diabetes. Ask your healthcare provider (HCP) what shoes are best for you, and if your insurance will help cover the cost. 

Step 2: Set a goal

"Realistic goals are the key to any program," says Jeff Salvage, race walking expert, coach, and founder of Racewalk.com. Your goal can be a distance, a target weight, or the number of times you want to walk each week.

Be sure to get the green light from an HCP before you start a fitness regimen to address any health concerns you might have. 

Step 3: Start slow

If you've been sedentary for a long time, start slowly. "Building up gradually is key," says Salvage. For the first six weeks, try to walk 3,000 steps a day. Over time, increase how many steps you take during each walk.

"Slow progress really starts to mount," Salvage notes. "Think about it like putting a little money at a time into a savings account. It all adds up." 

Step 4: Work on your posture

"Look at walking as part of a larger health activity and include core exercises to straighten you up," Salvage says.

Two of the best and simplest core-strengthening exercises to improve posture are the plank and glute bridge.

To do a plank, begin lying face-down on the floor and lift up to support your body on your elbows and forearms with your toes supporting your lower body. For more of a challenge, lift onto your palms as if you were about to do a pushup. To make the move a little easier, stay on your forearms and lower your knees to touch the floor. Either way, make sure to keep a straight line from your head to your heels (or your knees). Hold for as many beats as you can and remember to breathe deeply as you go.

To do a glute bridge, begin lying on your back, feet flat on the floor with your legs bent to 90 degrees. Lift your butt, hips, and lower back off the floor until your body forms a straight line from your knees to your shoulders, which remain in contact with the floor. Keeping your hips elevated, hold the position as you breathe deeply.

Step 5: Watch your form

As you set out walking, keep your body upright and watch your posture.

Look straight ahead and relax your shoulders. Keep your stride comfortable and go at your own pace. As walking for fitness becomes more natural and familiar, your feet will move more easily from heel to toe. If you want a more vigorous workout, Salvage suggests bending your arms at 90-degree angles and swinging them back and forth. This increases your calorie burn and helps propel you forward. 

Step 6: Track your progress

"You should always keep some kind of log of everything you do," says Salvage. He encourages walkers to write down how they feel, how far they walk, how long they walk, and the level of walking intensity.

You can invest in a pedometer or fitness tracker to log your steps. One perk of tracking is that it can motivate you to walk even more. Pick a model with an easy-to-read display. You can also use smartphone app that has a built-in steps tracker, like Sharecare (available for Android and iOS), or simply keep a handwritten log or journal. 

Step 7: Watch what you eat

Nutrition is often an overlooked part of a diabetes walking plan. Stick to whole and unprocessed foods. Lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are all healthy options. "The calories that you eat do matter," says Salvage. "If you combine walking with the right fuels, you'll lose weight and feel better." Proper fuel will also keep your energy up.

People with diabetes need to pay special attention to their nutrition so check with an HCP or a registered dietitian for specific meal plans and advice before you set out. If you take insulin, you may be advised to check your blood sugar levels before, during, and after exercise. It might also make sense to eat some extra carbs before exercising to prevent low blood sugar levels and to carry glucose tablets when you exercise just in case of low blood sugar. Remember to carry a cell phone when you go out in case of a medical emergency.

Step 8: Get support

To make your walking plan stick, you'll need to stay motivated. Find support from loved ones and friends.

"Motivation is everyone's challenge," says Salvage. "You can put up positive affirmations, but there's nothing like having someone to motivate you. If you don't get out the door, you're letting someone down, so it's not just about you." 

Eventually, your daily walks will become a habit you look forward to each day. Happy walking!

Article sources open article sources

Paluch AE, Bajpai S, Bassett DR, et al. Daily steps and all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis of 15 international cohorts. Lancet Public Health. 2022;7(3):e219-e228.
Hall KS, Hyde ET, Bassett DR, et al. Systematic review of the prospective association of daily step counts with risk of mortality, cardiovascular disease, and dysglycemia. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2020;17(1):78. Published 2020 Jun 20.
Paluch AE, Gabriel KP, Fulton JE, et al. Steps per Day and All-Cause Mortality in Middle-aged Adults in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(9):e2124516. Published 2021 Sep 1.
American Diabetes Association. Exercise & Type 1. Accessed May 19, 2023.
Kraus WE, Janz KF, Powell KE, et al. Daily Step Counts for Measuring Physical Activity Exposure and Its Relation to Health. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2019;51(6):1206-1212.

More On

Are whole body exercises useful for people with diabetes?

video

Are whole body exercises useful for people with diabetes?
Whole body exercises, like yoga and tai chi, help those with diabetes to build muscle and strength all over the body, rather than just isolated areas....
How to Exercise When You Have Diabetes

article

How to Exercise When You Have Diabetes
Don't forget these safety precautions before your next workout.
Get Fit With Diabetes: 8 Exercise Mistakes to Avoid

slideshow

Get Fit With Diabetes: 8 Exercise Mistakes to Avoid
New to exercise? Watch out for these common exercise errors to prevent injury.
My story: Len and diabetes

video

My story: Len and diabetes
Len was stunned by his diabetes diagnosis but since then he's been educating himself and is proactive with his health. Watch his story here.
Have treatments for type 1 diabetes improved?

video

Have treatments for type 1 diabetes improved?
In this video Griffin Rodgers, MD, director of diabetes, digestive and kidney disease at the National Institutes of Health, discusses the long-term st...