Walking may or may NOT be enough to control type 2 diabetes. It depends on how you do it.
To help control type 2 diabetes, should walking be done:
• Based on length of time?
• According to distance?
• Based on speed?
• On inclines?
• Does holding onto a treadmill sabotage the effect?
Interval Walking vs. Continuous Walking for Type 2 Diabetes Control
An example of interval walking is alternating a fast pace for 30 seconds with an easy pace for a minute or two and doing this for, say, half an hour nonstop.
The point is that the interval portion feels like exercise, while the easy pace feels easy.
Continuous walking is maintaining a fixed speed for a non-interrupted length of time, but the speed should be enough to get your heart rate up.
A study in Diabetes Care (Feb. 2013, Karstoft et al) found that interval walking, hands-down, was superior to continuous (aka steady state) walking.
The study consisted of three groups with type 2 diabetes: 1) control, 2) continuous walking, and 3) interval walking.
Both exercise groups walked five sessions per week for an hour each and used an accelerometer and heart rate monitor.
The interval group alternated three minutes of high intensity walking with low intensity.
Keep in mind that intensity is subjective, and a speed that’s intense for one person may seem only mildly challenging to another.
Thus, assigning a fixed speed to the interval for all people is meaningless.
The steady state group walked at moderate intensity. Again, perceived medium intensity is subjective, but by definition, if you can sustain a fixed pace for 60 minutes, it’s either light or medium; it’s certainly not intense.
After four months, glycemic control was measured: HbA1c, fasting glucose, oral glucose tolerance and continuous glucose monitoring.
The interval group showed improvements in the following:
• The ability to use oxygen during movement
• Loss of body fat
• Continuous glucose monitoring
“The continuous walkers showed no changes in glycemic control,” says the paper.
Though steady state walking offset a worsening of glycemic control that was seen in the control (non-walking) group, only the interval walking group had an actual improvement in their type 2 diabetes.
“…interval walking is superior to energy expenditure-matched continuous walking for improving physical fitness, body composition, and glycemic control,” says the study.
Tips on Interval Walking
• Though the aforementioned study had the participants walking for 60 minutes, you can do an effective interval training workout in just 30 minutes. Intensity is more important than length of time or distance covered.
• If the work intervals make you feel out of breath and too winded to carry on a conversation, you’re doing great. If you feel you can walk quite a while at the interval pace, then it’s not intense enough.
• The work interval can be in the form of a very fast pace, or a slower pace but using a treadmill incline or outdoor hills.
• If you use a treadmill, holding onto the machine will sabotage your goals. There are many reasons for this.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.