Fasting Blood Sugar Reduced by Walking

Richard Bernstein, an engineer with diabetes, invented home blood glucose monitoring. To learn more about this invention, about two years ago I started doing it myself. Mostly I measured my fasting blood sugar level — the level you measure in the morning before eating anything. My numbers were okay — averaging about 90 mg/dL. Optimal is 84, readings above 100 are considered pre-diabetic. I stopped for a while. Then I resumed, and was shocked to see that the numbers were considerably worse — the average was in the high 90s.

I tried to lower them. The obvious thing to do was to eat less carbs, but I already ate few carbs. I cut my carb intake still further but the problem didn’t go away. The graph below shows a solution I found by accident: to walk 30-60 minutes/day (closer to 60 than 30).

2010-07-16 blood sugar

After months of trying this and that, and nothing working, one morning the reading was good. I realized I’d done something unusual the previous evening: Taken a 30-minute walk home in the evening rather than ride my bike. After that I deliberately walked 50-60 minutes almost every day and found that my readings were much better, as the graph shows. It wasn’t always walking steadily for 60 minutes — stopping now & then was okay. However, wandering through stores for 60 minutes (or any length of time) didn’t seem to work. My walks were in the afternoon or evening.

I have not read elsewhere that non-diabetics should do this sort of monitoring, but it helped me. I have seen “exercise” recommended as a way to improve blood sugar control but what I found is much more specific. This article recommends walking about 3 miles/day, which is what I did. This research found big effects of substantial aerobic exercise. My walking was just ordinary continuous walking. But the details of my exercise aren’t the point: The point is you can find out for yourself what works.

This sort of thing looks even better when you learn that GlaxoSmithKline, the giant drug company, hid evidence that its diabetes drug caused heart attacks. The drug has generated billions in revenue for the company.

13 Responses to “Fasting Blood Sugar Reduced by Walking”

  1. Alex Chernavsky Says:

    Hiding evidence is business-as-usual for Glaxo (as well as Big Pharma in general). GlaxoSmithKline tried to bury evidence that their antidepressant Paxil (called Seroxat in the UK and in some other countries) was associated with suicidality. Investigative reporter Alison Bass wrote a book about this scandal. The book is called, Side Effects: A Prosecutor, a Whistleblower, and a Bestselling Antidepressant on Trial. Glaxo deliberately suppressed studies which revealed the dangerous effects of their drug.

  2. dearieme Says:

    My GP told me to get off my bike and walk a lot. I got plantar fasciitis, and the consequent limping caused further injuries to both knees and both feet. Beware!!

  3. jim Says:

    I am just starting this to bring my glucose level down. I just got some walking poles ( to try to involve the upper body muscles. A half-hour does not have much effect so I am going to increase it to 1 hour.
    Sort of off topic. I am reading “Becoming a Successful Scientist” by Craig Loehle and he recommends long walks as an effective technique for deeper rumination and contemplation. Walking may be a toofer!

  4. Todd Says:

    I have found the same thing as you, Seth: that long walks not only bring down BG levels. I also found that walking causes BG levels to drop more rapidly than normal after eating. So the usual 2-3 hours that it takes to return to baseline is cut in half or shorter. Paradoxically, I found that intense exercise, like running or strenuous weight workouts actually cause a brief rise of 10-40 points in BG, but then a return to a level lower than starting. So I think the difference vs. walking is that strenuous exercise causes release of glucose from glycogen or stored fat & muscle (gluconeogenesis), followed by a drop to a lower baseline. I summarized these and a range of other findings (such as the BG-lowering effect of coconut oil) a few months ago and posted on your forum:

  5. Aaron Blaisdell Says:

    I agree with Jim that walking seems to help a lot of people think, just as a lot of people think better on their feet. Stands to reason. Nassim Taleb has written about the benefits he’s seen from incorporating lots of walking into his daily life.

  6. seth Says:

    Aaron, yeah, positive side effects. Whereas if I took a drug to control my blood sugar there would probably be negative side effects, as the GlaxoSmithKline story shows.

  7. Cracked, Angry Pundits and the ‘AIDS Myth’ Theory « The Daily G Says:

    […] Today I read a new article about Nobel winners who were supposedly crazy. Actually, the wording was ‘clearly insane’. Now, Cracked is a humour site; it’s not supposed to be serious, okay – but it does have pretensions of being informative. And I have indeed learned many a thing there – it’s actually one of the site’s principal pleasures – the writers cobble their articles together from research that most of us can’t be bothered to do ourselves. So you sometimes gets this sugared pill of knowledge, usually about something ‘awesome’ or ‘batshit insane’. […]

  8. jlonsdale Says:

    At UCSD in 2006, I attended a bioengineering seminar given by an old man (I think he was a famous old chemical engineering professor, but I could be wrong) who was a diabetic. He explained his self experimentation to control his blood sugar levels. He found that he only needed light exercise for about 15 minutes after each meal to keep his blood sugar levels at a reasonable level. Maybe the focus could be on stopping the blood sugar from rising in the first place?

  9. Phil Says:

    This is a good example of self-experimentation leading to a successful intervention. But you could also have consulted a doctor, or a diabetes website, and probably found out about the benefits of walking for controlling blood glucose a lot sooner. And dearieme, your doctor should probably poke around online too. For instance, an entry says “Walking is one of the most popular and widely recommended forms of physical activity for people with diabetes”, but warns “Foot health is particularly important for anyone with diabetes, so the input of a podiatrist may be especially useful if you’re considering a walking program.”

  10. Don’t miss these great links! Says:

    […] Seth Roberts has found a study that shows the significant benefits of exercise to diabetics (and non-diabetics) for their blood-sugar levels.  He also monitored his blood-sugar at home while exercising and while not exercising and found a significant impact. […]

  11. Great links for the weekend! Says:

    […] Seth Roberts did an interesting experiment recently and found that he could significantly impact his fasting blood sugar levels (eg. blood sugar levels first thing in the morning) by taking a walk the evening before.  Is there any coincidence that Chris has been getting us out doing a walk at the end of the day more often since we read this post? […]

  12. John W Says:

    Peter at the Hyperlipid blog describes why a low-carb diet may raise fasting blood sugar, and why it may not be a problem. Search for physiologic insulin resistance at the Hyperlipd blog and you will find It. Have you measured your A1C? This might be a better measure of your overall blood sugar control. What happens if you add a few carbs, say ~100g/day for a few days?

  13. Seth Roberts Says:

    Before I started this, my A1C was poor. Although I did plenty of aerobic exercise and had good aerobic fitness, it was also true that I mostly sat all day. So these results make sense from that point of view — the idea that we generally need plenty of walking for good blood glucose control.