10 Tips for Walking With Diabetes

The experts agree that walking and other exercise is the prescription for people with diabetes. The American Diabetes Association says there is no restriction on what exercise people with diabetes can do, and it is the best way to prevent weight gain and cardiovascular disease, which is the top killer of people with diabetes.


Get Into the Walking Habit

Mature couple walking on natural path
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Make exercise a regular part of your life. Experts agree that people with diabetes should try to exercise most days of the week. Build up to walking at a brisk pace for 30 minutes most days of the week. You can get started with walking by using this Quick Start 30-Day Plan.


Choose the Right Shoes

Lacing Your Shoes
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Taking care of your feet and preventing blisters is important for people with diabetes, as the condition slows wound healing. Properly fitted athletic shoes will help prevent blisters and other injuries, such as plantar fasciitis. Get yourself properly fitted for walking shoes to help ensure that you are comfortable and safe on your walks.


The Right Socks Are Important

Close up of running shoes as man checks ties during run through the Chugach Mountains on Chugach front range peaks Southcentral Alaska summer
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Socks are also a critical defense against blisters. Toss out your cotton socks as they retain sweat and can cause blisters. Get socks made of today's miracle fabrics (such as CoolMax and Ultimax) that wick away sweat and prevent blisters. There are also socks made specifically for people with diabetes. The fit of your socks also makes a difference.

Look for socks shaped like your foot rather than a tube. That way they won't bunch up and rub to cause blisters.


Check Your Blood Sugar Levels

Woman checking her blood sugar
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Check your blood sugar levels before and after walking.

  • Too low: below 140 mg/dl. If too low, you may need to eat 15 grams of carbohydrates before your walk so your blood level doesn't drop too low.
  • Too high: over 300. If too high, you need to postpone your walk until your blood sugar level lowers.
  • When out on a long walk, it is wise to check your blood sugar levels at regular intervals, especially if you are new to walking.

When to Walk

Walking on The Tan running track around The Botanical Gardens in the morning.
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The best time for walking is 30 minutes after a meal. Morning exercise is recommended, since it avoids the peak insulin part of the day, especially for people with type 1 diabetes.


Your Insulin Dosage May Change

Bottle of insulin and syringe against white background,close-up
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Your insulin requirements will change with exercise. When starting a walking program or increasing your amount of exercise, consult with your physician regularly on how to adjust your medications.


Drink Enough!

Mature woman on walking exercise
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Drink up to prevent dehydration, which you may not notice until it is too late.

Have a big glass of water an hour before walking, then drink a cup of water every 20 minutes while walking.

At the end of your walk, drink another big glass of water. For long, hot walks of two hours or more, consider a sports drink that replaces salts but check the carbohydrate content on the label.


Eating and Walking

A young couple eats snacks in the back of their car after hiking
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Carry a snack for when you or your walking partner detects signs of low blood sugar. After walking, you may need to eat more carbohydrates than usual to prevent delayed hypoglycemia. Especially when starting or increasing your walking program, be extra aware of symptoms and signs, listen to your body, and consult your doctor with any questions on diet.


Know the Signs of Hypoglycemia

Woman out of breath because of physical activity
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When walking, stay aware of your body and how you are feeling. It can be difficult to tell whether you are sweating from exertion or hypoglycemia.

Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

  • Weakness
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Hunger
  • Dizziness
  • Paleness
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Trembling
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Cold, clammy feelings

If you begin exhibiting symptoms, take the recommended steps to address the problem such as consuming a fast-acting carbohydrate. If your symptoms seem severe or do not reduce after eating, contact your doctor or emergency services immediately. In severe cases, people may lapse into a coma.


Buddy up and Wear an Alert Bracelet

Mother and daughter walking on beach
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Walking with a partner or walking club has several benefits. First, you can have him watch you for signs of low blood sugar and nag you to take care of yourself. Second, walking with somebody else keeps you more regular in your exercise. In any case, wear a medical identification bracelet that says you have diabetes. That is critical in a medical emergency.

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  1. Colberg SR, Sigal RJ, Yardley JE, et al. Physical activity/exercise and diabetes: a position statement of the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care. 2016;39(11):2065-2079. doi:10.2337/dc16-1728

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diabetes diet, eating, & physical activity. Updated December 2016.

  3. Cleveland Health Clinic. Glucose control: why timing your exercise after meals matters. Updated August 8, 2018.

  4. Erickson ML, Jenkins NT, Mccully KK. Exercise after you eat: hitting the postprandial glucose target. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2017;8:228. doi:10.3389/fendo.2017.00228

  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Low blood glucose (hypoglycemia). Updated August 2016.

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