8 tips for a diabetes walking program

How to make a diabetes walking plan that keeps you fit.

Young man smiling and running wearing exercise clothes on an outdoor path

Updated on March 25, 2024.

Walking can help you be more physically fit. It can help you have more energy. And it can help you reach fitness goals while you manage diabetes.  

Experts say to walk 10,000 steps a day. That’s about 5 miles. It can help you have your best health and fitness. But studies don’t really show 10,000 is essential. If you’re new to fitness, 10,000 may feel like a lot. 

Some studies show walking about 7,000 steps a day may help you have better health. 

Increasing the number of steps you take each day may improve your health, too. And it may not matter what shape you’re in when you start.  

Studies suggest taking 1,000 more steps each day. That is about a half-mile. This may lower the chances of heart disease and death. That’s according to an article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity in 2020. 

People with diabetes may benefit even more from walking. Just 30 minutes each day can lower blood sugar levels. Walking helps muscles absorb sugar from the blood. It helps manage weight. And it may decrease cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in the blood. Too much of the wrong kind of cholesterol can harden arteries.  

Try these steps for your own diabetes walking program:  

Step 1: Check your shoes 
You don’t need much to start walking. But it’s important to think about a few things. First, check your shoes. The right walking shoes are necessary for comfort. They can help you keep going. And they can prevent injuries to the feet and joints. That’s important for people with diabetes.  

Ask your healthcare provider (HCP) what shoes are best for you. Ask if your insurance will help cover the cost.  

Step 2: Set a goal 
"Realistic goals are the key to any program," says Jeff Salvage, a walking expert.  

Your goals can be: 

  • Distance 
  • A target weight 
  • The number of times you want to walk each week. 

Check with an HCP before you start a fitness regimen. Ask about any health concerns you might have.  

Step 3: Start slow 
If you haven’t exercised 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. As you are able, increase the number of steps you take. 

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

Step 4: Work on your core 
"Look at walking as part of a larger health activity and include core exercises to straighten you up," Salvage says. 

Two of the best exercises for your core are the plank and glute bridge. 

To do a plank: 

  • Lie face-down on the floor. 
  • Lift up to support your body on your elbows and forearms. 
  • Support your lower body with your toes. 
  • For a challenge, lift onto your palms like you are doing a pushup.  
  • To make it easier, stay on your forearms and lower your knees to the floor.  
  • Keep a straight line from your head to your heels (or your knees).  
  • Hold for as long as you can. 
  • Breathe deeply as you go. 

To do a glute bridge: 

  • Lie 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.  
  • Form a straight line with your body from your knees to your shoulders. 
  • Keep your shoulders in contact with the floor.  
  • Keep your hips up. 
  • Hold the position and breathe deeply. 

Step 5: Watch your form 
As you start walking, watch your posture. Keep your body upright. Look straight ahead and relax your shoulders. Keep your stride comfortable. Go at your own pace. As walking for fitness becomes familiar, your feet will move more easily from heel to toe.  

For a harder workout, Salvage says to bend your arms at 90-degree angles. Then swing them back and forth. This increases the number of calories you burn. It helps move you forward, too.  

Step 6: Track your progress 
"You should always keep some kind of log of everything you do," Salvage says. He tells walkers to write down: 

  • How they feel 
  • How far they walk 
  • How long they walk 
  • The level of walking intensity 

Tracking can motivate you to walk even more. You can use a smartphone app that tracks your steps. Or keep a handwritten log or journal.  

Step 7: Watch what you eat 
Don’t overlook your diet. "The calories that you eat do matter," says Salvage. "If you combine walking with the right fuels, you'll lose weight and feel better."  

Healthy food will keep your energy up, too. It includes: 

  • Whole and unprocessed foods 
  • Lean proteins 
  • Whole grains 
  • Fruits 
  • Vegetables 

People with diabetes need to pay attention to their diet. Check with an HCP or a registered dietitian for meal plans and advice before you start.  

If you take insulin, your HCP may tell you to check your blood sugar levels before, during, and after exercise. You may need to eat extra carbs before exercising to prevent low blood sugar levels. Carry glucose tablets when you exercise in case of low blood sugar. Carry a cell phone with you in case of emergency. 

Step 8: Get support 
To continue your walking plan, 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."  

With time, your walks may become a habit you look forward to. 

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.

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