Walking is one of the easiest and most accessible forms of exercise, and it can provide powerful health benefits. For people with high blood sugar or type 2 diabetes, regular walking may help lower blood sugar levels and improve glycemic control.
How Does Walking Lower Blood Sugar?
Walking helps lower blood sugar in several ways:
- It uses up glucose as fuel. When you walk, your muscles need energy, so they take up glucose from your bloodstream without needing insulin.
- It makes your cells more sensitive to insulin. Exercise makes your muscles and fat cells remove glucose from your blood more efficiently in response to insulin.
- It slows digestion. Walking moderately can slow the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates from your last meal, which can prevent blood sugar spikes.
In addition, walking may also help lower blood sugar by reducing stress hormones like cortisol that raise blood sugar levels during stress. It may also help control appetite and promote weight loss, which can improve insulin sensitivity.
How Much Does a 30 Minute Walk Lower Blood Sugar?
On average, a 30 minute walk can lower blood sugar levels by about 30 mg/dL (or 1.7 mmol/L) in people with diabetes. However, the effects can vary substantially from person to person.
In one study, people with type 2 diabetes who walked for 30 minutes after a meal saw an average reduction in blood sugar of 39.7 mg/dL compared to when they remained inactive. But the results ranged widely, with some people experiencing little change while others lowered their blood sugar by over 90 mg/dL.
Other research shows that 30 minutes of moderate walking (at 3.5 mph) can lower blood sugar by 24.1 mg/dL on average, while walking at a brisk pace (4 mph) may reduce it by up to 36 mg/dL.
The effects tend to be most pronounced when walking after a meal, as it counteracts the blood sugar spike from eating carbohydrates. Walking before a meal may have less dramatic effects on blood sugar.
Factors That Influence How Much Walking Lowers Blood Sugar
Several factors influence how much a 30 minute walk reduces blood sugar levels:
- Fitness level – Being more fit allows you to walk faster, burn more calories, and lower blood sugar more.
- Body weight – People who carry more body weight tend to see greater reductions.
- Medications – Some diabetes medications can enhance the glucose-lowering effects of exercise.
- Time since last meal – Walking after eating causes the biggest drops in blood sugar.
- Intensity – Faster paced walking lowers blood sugar more than slower walking.
- Duration – Longer walks tend to lower blood sugar more than shorter ones.
Let’s look at some examples of how much walking could lower blood sugar based on these factors:
Blood Sugar Reduction Examples
|Person||Fitness Level||Body Weight||Medications||Time Since Meal||Intensity||Blood Sugar Drop|
|Person A||Low fitness||Obese||Metformin only||2 hours after meal||Slow stroll||15 mg/dL|
|Person B||High fitness||Normal weight||Insulin + metformin||1 hour after meal||Brisk walk||45 mg/dL|
As shown, the more fit, active person taking diabetes medication sees a larger drop in blood sugar after a faster paced walk shortly after eating compared to an obese, unfit person going for a slow stroll a couple hours after a meal.
Timing of Walks for Optimal Blood Sugar Control
To get the most out of walking for lowering blood sugar, timing is key.
Some of the best times to walk include:
- After meals – Walking 15-30 minutes after eating helps lower the blood sugar spike from the meal.
- Before meals – A 10-15 minute pre-meal walk may help stabilize blood sugar in anticipation of eating.
- First thing in the morning – A morning walk can help lower fasting blood sugar levels.
- After long sedentary periods – Going for a walk after prolonged sitting helps “reset” your blood sugar levels.
Walking at least 2-3 times per day targeting these key times provides the most blood sugar benefits. Plus, spreading walks out helps maintain the results rather than just going for one prolonged walk per day.
Sample Walking Schedule to Optimize Blood Sugar
|7 AM||30 minute morning walk||Lower fasting blood sugar|
|12 PM||15 minute walk before lunch||Stabilize pre-meal blood sugar|
|1 PM||20 minute walk after lunch||Lower post-meal blood sugar spike|
|3:30 PM||10 minute afternoon walk||Break up sitting and stabilize blood sugar|
Maximizing the Blood Sugar Benefits of Walking
To get the most blood sugar benefits from walking, consider these tips:
- Walk at a moderate pace or intensity where you can still hold a conversation.
- Aim for at least 30 minutes per walk, if possible.
- Include some brisk intervals or hills during your walk to spike your heart rate.
- Walk after carbohydrate-containing meals whenever possible.
- Stay well hydrated during and after walking.
- Reduce your carbohydrate intake, especially refined carbs and sugars.
- Lose weight if overweight – every pound lost can improve insulin sensitivity.
Devices like continuous glucose monitors (CGM) that track real-time changes in blood sugar can also help you learn when and how long to walk for best results.
Combining Walking With Other Exercise and Lifestyle Measures
While walking has excellent blood sugar lowering effects, combining it with other healthy habits provides even better control.
Some ways to get greater results include:
- Resistance training – Lifting weights, using resistance bands, or bodyweight exercises can further improve insulin sensitivity.
- High intensity interval training – Adding short, intense intervals into walks or other cardio (e.g. sprints, hills) burns more glucose and enhances insulin response.
- Reducing sitting time – Breaking up prolonged sitting with standing, stretching, or short walks can also lower blood sugar throughout the day.
- Stress management – Meditation, deep breathing, yoga, or other relaxation techniques help neutralize the blood sugar-raising effects of stress.
Making dietary changes like reducing refined carbs and eating more vegetables, fiber and lean protein can provide additional blood sugar advantages.
In summary, going for a 30 minute walk can significantly reduce blood sugar levels, especially when done at strategic times in relation to meals and daily insulin response patterns. A moderate 30 minute walk may lower blood glucose by around 30 mg/dL on average, with potential reductions of up to 90 mg/dL or more depending on the individual. Combining regular walking with other healthy lifestyle and dietary measures can provide even better blood sugar control for people with diabetes or prediabetes.