10 Tips for Walking With Diabetes

Experts agree that walking (and other exercise) is beneficial for people with diabetes. The American Diabetes Association adds that there is no restriction on the type of exercise people with diabetes can do, and it is the best way to prevent weight gain and cardiovascular disease, the latter of which is the top killer of people with diabetes.

What do you need to know to make walking a safe and effective activity if you've been diagnosed with diabetes? These 10 tips can help.

1

Talk to Your Doctor

Bottle of insulin and syringe against white background,close-up
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Your insulin requirements can change with exercise. When starting a walking program or increasing your amount of exercise, consult with your physician to see if your medication needs to be adjusted.

2

Make Walking a Habit

Mature couple walking on natural path
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People with diabetes should try to exercise most days of the week. Build up to walking at a brisk pace for 30 minutes on as many days per week as you can fit in.

You can get started with walking by using this Quick Start 30-Day Plan.

3

Check Your Blood Sugar Levels

Woman checking her blood sugar
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Check your blood sugar level before and after walking to make sure it is okay. 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.

  • Too low: If your blood sugar is below 140 mg/dl, you may need to eat 15 grams of carbohydrates before your walk so your blood level doesn't drop too low.
  • Too high: If your blood sugar is above 300 mg/dl, you may need to postpone your walk until your blood sugar level lowers.
4

Know 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 as this helps keep your glucose from rising too high. Morning exercise is also recommended, especially for people with type 1 diabetes, since it avoids the peak insulin part of the day.

5

Choose the Right Shoes

Lacing Your Shoes
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Buying the right walking shoes helps ensure that you are comfortable and safe on your walks. Some shoes are designed to control the motion of your feet while others are better at providing cushion or stability.

Taking care of your feet is especially important for people with diabetes as this condition slows wound healing. Properly fitted athletic shoes can help prevent blisters and other injuries, such as plantar fasciitis.

6

Wear the Right Socks

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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Toss out your cotton socks as they retain sweat and can cause blisters. Instead, get socks made of moisture-wicking fabrics such as CoolMax and Ultimax. There are also socks made specifically for people with diabetes.

The fit of your socks makes a difference as well. Look for socks shaped like your foot rather than a tube. That way they won't bunch up and rub to cause blisters.

7

Stay Hydrated

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. Just be sure to check the carbohydrate content on the label first.

8

Watch for 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 from low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia.

Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

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

If you begin exhibiting symptoms, take action 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 can lapse into a coma.

9

Walk With Someone

Mother and daughter walking on beach
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Walking with a partner or walking club has several benefits. One, you can have them watch you for signs of low blood sugar and prompt you to take care of yourself. Two, walking with somebody else makes it easier to develop an exercise habit.

Either way, it's also beneficial to wear a medical identification bracelet that says you have diabetes. That is critical in a medical emergency.

10

Carry Snacks

A young couple eats snacks in the back of their car after hiking
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Take snacks on your walk with you, in case 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 about diet as it relates to exercise.

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5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  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 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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