San Francisco Bay Area resident Patrick Totty writes about his experiences living with type 2 diabetesSee all posts »
I'm Walkin', Yes Indeed, I'm Walkin'
I’ve often sung Fats Domino’s classic “I’m Walkin’” to myself as I’ve strolled around the neighborhood getting some exercise.
Nobody disputes that walking is something almost everybody can do. For people with diabetes it’s just about the cheapest, easiest exercise there is.
But it turns out that there’s walking and then there’s walking, as in “interval walking.” That’s where you start out slow, then when you’ve warmed up, put on a burst of high-speed striding, followed by a minute or two at your regular pace. Then you repeat.
The idea behind interval training is an old one: You challenge your heart and circulatory system by putting a temporarily high demand on it, followed by a short rest period. The goal is to build up heart strength in much the same way that weight lifters build muscle mass by alternating stress and rest.
Interval training works. Track and long-distance runners have been doing it for years, as well as any other athletes who need to train their bodies to work at a high level of cardiovascular efficiency.
The heart muscle responds both by becoming stronger and taking less time to recover, more and more quickly returning to its normal resting rate of 60, 70, or 80 beats per minute.
A bonus for people with diabetes is that this form of exercise is linked to lowered insulin resistance. (Here’s a link to an article on interval walking.)
The only expense that’s really attached to it is the need for some sort of timer. Other than that, a good pair of walking shoes, a nice time of day, and an interesting course meet all needs.
Like any form of exercise, this isn’t something you jump into. First off, it’s best to be warmed up before putting on a burst of speed. I don’t mean classic stretching exercises—believe it or not, the jury’s still out on their necessity. Simply starting to walk at a moderate pace for five or 10 minutes is warm-up enough for most people.
If your first tries at interval walking end up with you finishing your high-speed bursts completely pooped, bent over, hands on your knees and gasping for air, you’re trying too much too soon. The ideal is to put on a burst but be able to continue walking when you slow down.
You also have to learn which pains to pay attention to. There’s the normal discomfort when you set out walking and your body screams, “You are making me work how dare you I don’t like it I don’t like it return me to the couch NOW!”
If you persist in ignoring those pitiful pleas, you find that your muscles eventually loosen up, most discomfort goes away or becomes tolerable, and you can hit a comfortable cruising speed.
The pains you want to pay attention to are the obvious ones. If a groin or hamstring muscle starts hurting, or a knee ligament begins aching, or your neuropathic feet are painful to walk on or numbed out, there’s no point in “pushing through the pain.” Body parts do not lie when they tell you they’re not happy.
Otherwise, go do as Fats did.