Walking It Off: Safe & Effective Aerobic Exercise

Is your health your biggest excuse for not being more physically active? Whether your biggest health complaint is high blood pressure, loss of feeling in your feet, or arthritic knees, it’s time to change your thinking. There is mounting evidence that older individuals with chronic health problems respond just as well to exercise training as their younger counterparts; yet, many older people still choose not to be physically active. One reason may be their health, as 85 percent of people over the age of 65 have some health problem that they may view as a deterrent to exercise. Diabetes should definitely not be one of them, though, and neither should almost all of the others.

Aerobic exercise makes your heart work harder to pump blood out to the rest of your body more quickly and with more force than normal. As blood is pumped faster, it must be oxygenated more quickly, which makes you breathe more often. As a positive consequence, though, aerobic exercise strengthens the heart and boosts healthy cholesterol levels. In fact, regular training will also improve the oxygen-using capacity of your muscles, the amount of muscle mass that you have, your blood glucose control, and many other chronic ailments.

The Surgeon General recently recommended moderate amounts of daily, aerobic physical activity consisting of 30 minutes of moderate activities (like brisk walking) or shorter sessions of more intense exercise, including jogging or playing basketball for 15 to 20 minutes. Lower impact aerobic exercises include mild walking, swimming, cycling, t’ai chi, and the like. Running, tennis, and aerobic dance classes are examples of higher impact forms of cardiovascular workouts. Moderate walking, though, is more sustainable over a lifetime than many other activities, making it one of the best “medicines” for both the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes and for your overall health.

Ideally, your chosen activities should be ones that allow you to move your whole body over the greatest distance possible to maximize your energy expenditure. However, although both walking and jogging fall into this category of activities, most overweight adults will find jogging and running either too difficult or simply not enjoyable. As an alternative, you can trick yourself into walking more simply by incorporating it into other activities – like walking farther than you need to when you go shopping. Walking can be the gateway to more vigorous exercise, which can further increase your overall health benefits. As a bonus, your self-confidence may improve once you start a walking program, which may lead you to start including additional physical activities into your life. You might even want to try out ballroom dancing, cycling, low impact aerobics classes, or other forms of aerobic exercise. Always take advantage of any strong physical attributes that you have, such as stronger legs from carrying around your extra body weight.

Overweight individuals may have special concerns about doing exercise routines, however. In particular, being overweight may make you acutely aware of your larger body size and self-conscious during such activities or prevent you from wanting to participate at all. If you fit this profile, it is especially important for you to find other activities that are enjoyable for you. You may need to try out a few different ones until you can find the ones that you really like, but doing so will be well worth the extra effort.

For example, swimming or aquatic classes may be a viable alternative for you. Extra fat stored under your skin acts to insulate and keep you warmer in the pool, which is an advantage in pools heated to 80 degrees Fahrenheit or less, as heat losses through the skin in water are usually much greater than in air. Also, the water serves to hide your body, which may decrease any inhibition that you may feel when your figure is more plainly visible during other activities.

Although almost everyone can exercise safely and effectively, engaging in even more total physical activity may offer additional benefits, but only up to a point. The incidence of so-called “overuse injuries,” such as inflamed tendons (tendonitis) and stress fractures in bones, soars when more than 60 to 90 minutes of hard exercise is done daily. In addition, diabetes bestows some risks on exercisers. However, you can still exercise to your maximum potential – as long as you respect your limitations. To stay safe and get the most out of your activities, follow the exercise guidelines published by the American Diabetes Association for safe participation, and remember to include proper warm-up and cool-down periods (at least five minutes of a similar aerobic activity done at a lesser intensity before and after an activity) to ease the cardiovascular transition and minimize risk for orthopedic injuries.

Here are some other ideas to get you exercising more: The American Diabetes Association sponsors Club Ped, an online group that you can join to keep track of your steps, your progress, and your step goals. All you will need to get started is a pedometer. In addition, a national campaign called “America on the Move” advocates a minimum increase of 2,000 steps per day for everyone and offers a free online step tracker.

Numerous other pedometer-based walking programs are available and can be accessed online at websites such as: AccuSplit pedometer company and StepTracker.com. Inexpensive pedometers can also be purchased through sporting good stores or ordered online from various websites, including americaonthemove.org, accusplit.com, digiwalker.com, walk4life.com, steps-to-help.org, and pedometerusa.com.

2 thoughts on “Walking It Off: Safe & Effective Aerobic Exercise

  1. Sheri Colberg PhD

    An exercise intensity question from a reader’s e-mail to Dr. Sheri:

    I have read most of The Diabetic Athlete and found a lot of good information. I was disappointed in the lack of answer from my doctor about effects of training and diabetes. I have not been able to located a doctor that understands sports training and diabetes specialty.

    I am a type 2 diet and exercise controlled no meds for 8 years. I am 5’8 180#’s. I run 20 plus miles a week or cycle more than 100 most weeks. I do carry extra weight in the mid section but I do not look like I weigh that much.

    One of my questions is, if training with a heart rate monitor would it be better to train in the “fat burn zone” to lose weight and have less insulin resistance or train at the higher heart rates that would burn glycogen stores and deplete them?

    Dr. Sheri’s Answer:

    Generally, a heightened insulin action results from any type of exercise, but is likely to last longer when you use up more muscle glycogen. It can only be replaced at a certain rate (about 7% per hour with a normal carb intake), so the more you use up, the longer it takes to replace and the longer your insulin sensitivity is greater. You can always try doing “intervals” if the higher intensity is too hard to maintain throughout your workout–going harder for a while, then slowing down, and repeating the cycle. Also, adding in some weight training to build muscle mass (a genuinely good place to store extra glucose) is a good idea to keep insulin action high.

    P.S. I’ll be talking about the benefits of “interval training” in an upcoming post.

  2. Pingback: Lower Cholesterol And Prevent Heart

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