San Francisco Bay Area resident Patrick Totty writes about his experiences living with type 2 diabetesSee all posts »
Smelling the Honeysuckle is Great Exercise
After I was diagnosed with type 2, I became reacquainted with one great truth and one great joy. Both centered on walking.
My diagnosing doctor had wagged his finger at me and said, “Get moving,” and for me the easiest way to do that was to start walking. Walking was a simple act I had loved as a younger man but had let slip out of my quiver of good habits over the years.
The truth that returned to me was something I’d read, and later knew, as a boy. It was that humans are built to take in the world at around 5 miles per hour. At that speed, all the senses can join in concert. While I’m looking at spring buds on a honeysuckle bush, I’m also smelling their luscious fragrance, as well as listening to a nearby songbird who’s letting all the songbird honeys in the neighborhood know he’s available. In the summer where I live there are wild berry bushes to snack on.
You can’t do all that at 60 miles per hour. Or even 25. We’re smart enough to make things that can move us that fast, but we’re not set up to indulge any sense except sight at high speed.
The joy came from realizing that even a casual walk invites unexpected encounters and delights, from running into friends and acquaintances to exploring a new neighborhood to dropping in on some new business to watching kids clambering monkey-like at the local playground.
I’m not talking about walking as a one-size-fits-all exercise solution. Some of us are yoga or pilates aficionados, and those are fine ways to get a type 2 body going. Others of us love to swim, or lift weights, or bike. This is for those of us who need to get up and out doing a no-cost, no training-necessary, no-equipment-needed exercise.
The only caution I’d give is to start slowly. Muscles long unused to brisk walking will squawk right away if you try to treat them like heavy duty engines that you can just fire up and push at will. Give them some time to adjust. That means easy ambles around the block at first.
The time for brisk power walking, with quick steps and emphatic arm swings, comes later. Think of yourself as a new teen driver who theoretically is qualified to drive anywhere at will, but needs to get some surface street experience under her belt before taking on a freeway.
How long does that take? For me it was one week of a 10-minute stroll around the block on a daily basis. Starting the next week, I added a second stroll around the block later in the day. Emphasis on stroll. My aim was to go fairly easy, just trying to establish a walking habit before worrying about shifting into second gear.
After two weeks, putting on a bit of speed on the first walk of the day will tell you how ready you are. Once you’re used to walking faster, increase the distance. Within a month of my diagnosis I was walking at least 3 miles per day in around 45 minutes.
- A hat to protect your skin if your diabetes drugs make you sensitive to sunlight.
- A small water bottle.
- A pedometer to give you a rough measure of your steps (you can get a serviceable pedometer at a sporting goods store for $25 or $30). The rough rule of thumb is 2,500 steps per mile—your number may vary.