February 22, 2024

Your health matters: Walking can help lower A1C levels in diabetics – The Globe

WORTHINGTON – Let’s be completely honest: When we hear someone talk about or recommend exercise, what comes to mind?

Most of us will see someone dripping in sweat, exhausted and barely able to get off the floor, right? Depending on your reference time, you might be thinking of photos of Duane “The Rock” Johnson, Tae Bo Billy Blanks, Richard Simmons, or your favorite YouTube Pilates instructor’s workouts.

Now I’m going to encourage you to clear these kinds of thoughts from your mind while we absorb some information about the value of “becoming more active” when it comes to our plan for dealing with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes risks.

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

Walking is the simplest, most basic form of exercise that almost anyone can participate in. If walking isn’t part of your daily routine, start small, like five minutes a day. Next week, increase to six to eight minutes per day, followed by 10 to 12 minutes. Soon you will find yourself comfortably walking 20 to 30 minutes a day.

Make other fairly simple and probably barely noticeable changes to increase your activity level, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or stopping competing for the nearest parking space while running errands. Park further away and walk some more.

A few years ago there was a study that made a good point about the benefits of base walking in people with type 2 diabetes. For every additional 2,600 steps per day, there was a corresponding decrease in A1C of 0.2%. As a reference point for interpreting this information, 2,600 steps is just over a mile and equates to about 20 minutes of walking at a normal pace. As you may recall from previous articles in this series on type 2 diabetes, the A1C test is the most commonly used laboratory test to show average blood sugar levels over the past three months.

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

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

This is a great question and I’m glad the answer isn’t that we have to shovel snow every day!

By my quick count, we have at least six fitness centers in Worthington where you can work out in a controlled climate. Can’t afford a gym membership? There are more than just a few health insurance programs that pay for (or at least subsidize) gym memberships for people who actively use them.

The YMCA participates in the Silver Sneakers program for people age 65 and older who have one of several Blue Cross Blue Shield plans. Numerous other health plans encourage gym memberships for covered lives of all ages 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 any benefits for you.

Another affordable option in Worthington is The Center for Active Living (The CAL). This is the city’s former YMCA building, downtown. It serves people age 50 and older and offers a very affordable membership of $35 per year. There is a small walking path, opportunities for group exercises, pickleball courts and squash courts that will soon be renovated.

A completely free option can be to walk around the supermarket or large store during these cold winter months. This option can quickly become expensive and possibly counterproductive if you are pushing a cart and are an impulse buyer.

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

Again, only make incremental changes to build up this level of activity. This is the goal, not the starting point. Note the description of “moderate intensity” before the exercise. How do we know what this means? It will be more than a leisurely walk. In general, this means that while performing the activity at this pace, you can talk but not sing.

This could include walking at a pace of 15 minutes per kilometer, doing water aerobics, pushing a lawn mower, vacuuming or cycling (16-20 km/h).

It is also recommended to spread the 150 minutes throughout the week, not missing more than one day at a time. Thirty minutes five days a week may work for you, but for others, 10-minute increments three times a day may fit best into their routine.

Find ways to make exercise fun or at least reduce the boredom that tends to set in for 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 avoiding an endless stream of complaints against ourselves.

Get outside when you can. Take a walk or bike ride in a new area, play tennis or pickleball, or do strength training or yoga on your back patio. Multitask by listening to a podcast or audiobook while exercising or making the phone call you wanted to make to a friend or family member while walking. Walking is also a good time for meditation or prayer.

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

And if you don’t know how to fit exercise or activity into your already busy day, remember these words: “If you don’t make time for your well-being, you will 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 worked as a community pharmacist in Worthington since 1994.

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