By Sandra Huskey, First Mile Care DPP Coach

A study published this month in Diabetes Care found that walking 10,000 steps per day can lower the risk of death in people who have trouble regulating their blood sugar. The researchers at the University of Seville examined data from the CDC on 1,700 American adults with prediabetes and diabetes. Walking for 2.5 hours a week can cut your risk of heart disease by 30%, according to Harvard Medical School research.

This isn’t really a surprise to participants in the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), who are asked to get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity — which can include walking — per week as an element of the program. If 10,000 steps seems daunting, try taking it in chunks. People trying to start exercising often get caught up in “all or nothing” thinking, but even a few minutes throughout the day in small spurts of activity offers benefits. 

Walking not only burns calories but can strengthen your muscles, flatten your abdomen, lower your blood pressure, relieve stress, and lift your mood as endorphin levels increase. It’s a cardio exercise as it gets your heart rate up, as well as a weight-bearing exercise that engages all of your lower body muscles, plus your core and arms if you swing them lightly from your shoulders. Walking can also help prevent bone loss as you age, since bone is living tissue that, like muscle, grows stronger with exercise, according to the National Institute of Health.

Why walk?

Walking truly is the near-perfect exercise because it doesn’t require training, you can do it anytime — winter or summer, day or night, alone or with a partner or pet — and it’s free.  All you need is a decent pair of shoes that you check regularly for wear and tear to avoid uneven pacing that might lead to falls and hip, ankle, and back pain.

Even a tactic as simple as parking your car at the far end of a garage from the door can add extra steps to your day. If you have a sedentary desk job with a lot of virtual meetings, try using the time before or right after the meeting to take a short walk. If you’re working from home, do a “virtual commute” at the start and end of each day by walking around your house, yard, or neighborhood as if you were commuting to and from work. Walking meetings and phone calls are an easy way to get your steps in, as is using your walk to catch up on podcasts, whether for education or entertainment. 

Here are a few tips for getting more out of your walk.

Take smaller steps at a faster pace: Your walk will become a more challenging cardio workout if you walk faster, and swing your arms accordingly. Shorter strides help build your cadence and increase your speed (and you’ll hit that magic 10,000 marker more quickly).

Vary your route and scenery: If possible, get both flat and hilly terrain into your walk, or take in stairs. Determine multiple routes that help you reach your goal in terms of steps or time, and then vary them daily to keep your walk fresh.

Challenge yourself with intervals: Walk slowly for one minute, then quickly for one minute, and repeat. Or walk in five-minute blocks, where one minute is fast-paced and four are easier.

Keep going: The fewer breaks you take, the longer you’re keeping your heart rate elevated, so keep pacing in place while waiting to cross the street, or while checking out shop windows or the books in your neighborhood Little Free Library.

Aside from the physical benefits, walking gives you “me time” — preferably outdoors in the fresh air — to think, listen to music, catch up with a friend, or just to observe your surroundings and change of seasons in more detail. You may even make new acquaintances in your neighborhood. 

Mike Kowis, who completed the First Mile Care DPP in Houston in 2021, saw the value of tracking his daily steps on his Fitbit. “One of the most rewarding parts of the First Mile Care program was getting together with the other participants and telling them about meeting my goal of walking 10,000 steps every single day. It felt great to be encouraged by people who sincerely cared about my success and were happy for me.”

So start walking!

To learn more about how you can benefit from the First Mile Care Diabetes Prevention Program, take the prediabetes risk test and get started today!