Your Health Matters: Walking can help lower A1C level in diabetics – The Globe

WORTHINGTON — Let’s be totally honest for a moment, when we hear someone talk about or recommend exercise, what do you picture in your mind?

Most of us will see someone dripping with sweat, exhausted, barely able to get off the floor, right? Pictures of Duane “The Rock” Johnson, Tae Bo Billy Blanks, Richard Simmons, or your favorite YouTube Pilates instructor’s workouts might come to mind depending on your era of reference.

Now I am going to recommend you erase thoughts like that from your mind as we take in some information about the value of “becoming more active” when it comes to our plan to deal with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes risks.

If exercise or being active has not been a part of your daily routine of late, a realistic key to success is to make small incremental changes. The quickest way to become frustrated and “throw in the towel” is to set lofty goals in the beginning.

Walking is the simplest, most basic form of exercise that nearly everyone can take part in. If walking has not been part of your daily routine, start small with, say, five minutes per day. Next week, increase to six to eight minutes per day, followed by 10 to 12 minutes. Soon, you might find yourself comfortably walking 20 to 30 minutes per day.

Make other fairly simple and likely barely noticeable changes to increase your level of activity such as taking the stairs rather than the elevator, or stop competing for the nearest parking spot when running errands. Park farther away and walk a little more.

There was a study a few years back that made a great point about the benefits of basic walking in people with type 2 diabetes. For every additional 2,600 steps of walking per day, there was an associated drop in A1C of 0.2%. As a point of reference to interpret this info, 2,600 steps is a little over a mile and amounts to about 20 minutes of walking at a normal pace. As you may recall from past articles in this series on type 2 diabetes, the A1C test is the most common lab test used to show an average blood sugar over the past three-month period.

Analysis done of five different studies that included more than 300,000 people with prediabetes or considered overweight or obese found those who walked regularly — at least 20 minutes per day — had a 30% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

I am often asked, “We live in Minnesota, how do we get our needed level of activity during the winter months?”

This is a great question and I’m glad the response is not that we get to shovel snow every day!

By my quick count, we have at least six fitness center options in Worthington that will allow you to exercise in a controlled climate. Can’t afford a gym membership? There are more than just a few health insurance programs that will pay for — or at least subsidize — a gym membership for people who will actively use them.

The YMCA participates in the Silver Sneakers program for people ages 65 and over who have one of several different Blue Cross Blue Shield plans. Numerous other health plans encourage gym membership for covered lives of any age by helping them pay the cost of membership with proof of use. Don’t hesitate to show your insurance card and see if there are benefits for you to capture.

Another affordable option in Worthington is The Center for Active Living (The CAL). This is the city-owned, former YMCA property, in the downtown area. It serves people 50 years of age and over and offers a very affordable membership of $35 per year. There is a small walking track, group exercise options, pickleball courts, and soon-to-be-refurbished racquetball courts.

A completely free option can be to walk around the grocery store or mass retail store during these cold winter months. This option can quickly become costly and possibly counterproductive if you push a cart and are an impulse buyer.

As we work our way up to being more active, and for those who already have type 2 diabetes, the American Diabetes Association has a magic number of 150. That is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.

Once again, make only incremental changes to build up to this level of activity. This is the goal, not the starting point. Notice the description of “moderate-intensity” preceding exercise. How do we know what this means? It will amount to more than a leisurely stroll. In general, it means while you are performing the activity at this pace, you will be able to talk, but not sing.

This might be walking at a pace of 15 minutes per mile, doing water aerobics, pushing a lawn mower, vacuuming, or riding a bike (10-12 mph).

It’s also recommended that the 150 minutes be spread throughout the week, missing no more than one day at a time. Thirty minutes five days per week may work for you, but for others, 10-minute increments three times per day may fit best into their routine.

Find ways to make exercise fun or at least decrease the boredom that tends to set in with all of us. Exercise can be a game of psychological warfare with ourselves trying to distract or trick our minds into ignoring how we feel and avoid fielding an endless stream of complaints … to ourselves.

Get outside when you can. Take a hike or a bike ride in a new area, play tennis or pickleball, or do strength training or yoga on your back patio. Multi-task by listening to a podcast or audiobook while working out or making that phone call you’ve been meaning to make to a friend or family member while walking. Walking is also a great time for meditation or prayer.

Even though your bed feels really good in the morning when your alarm goes off, think about how good you will feel — and how much better the rest of your day will go — if you get that exercise in right away. Remember that exercise will very likely improve your blood sugars, lower your blood pressure, lower your body weight, reduce your risk of depression, and increase your happiness.

And when you can’t figure out how to fit exercise or being active into your already busy day, remember these words: “If you don’t make time for your wellness, you’ll be forced to make time for your illness.”

Jason Turner is a pharmacist with a master’s degree in pharmacy (Medication Therapy Management), is Board Certified in Advanced Diabetes Management (BC-ADM), and is a certified Diabetes Prevention Program Coach. He has practiced as a community pharmacist in Worthington since 1994.

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