Walking briskly for 20 to 45 minutes three times a week can not only reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, but it can also help you control your blood sugar and manage your weight if you already have diabetes. Ultimately, that may help you to decrease your dependence on medication and to reduce your risk of complications.
A small study done at Kyoto General Hospital in Japan suggests that adding qigong exercises — derived from an ancient form of the martial arts — can lower your blood sugar almost as much as conventional walking. And it’s safe even for people with serious diabetes complications (The Jour. of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, vol 5, no 4, 1999). Michiko Iwao, the qigong instructor who taught the technique at the hospital, says that you can do qigong walking even if you have a pacemaker or walk with a cane.
Qigong adds some important benefits to your regular walking program. Because you have to bend your knees slightly, it works your thigh muscles, which, because of their size, use more glucose. (This means that more glucose is transported out of the bloodstream, a plus for diabetics.) Qigong also provides extra stability, which may be helpful if you have a diabetes complication such as peripheral neuropathy that affects your gait and increases your risk of falling. Qigong also helps relieve stress.
From the starting position, bring your left foot slightly in front of your body, and shift your weight onto your right leg. Bring your left hand in front of your body to about 2 inches below your belly button (this is called the Lower Dantien, where tradition says your energy is held), and extend your right hand out to the side, still slightly in front of you.
As you inhale, begin to shift your weight onto your left leg, planting your foot slowly and firmly. Continue to keep both knees slightly bent. Swing your arms across the front of your body as you move forward into the step.
At the end of the swing, your hands should be even with the Lower Dantien. Remember to keep your back straight.
As you exhale, move your right foot forward, swinging your arms to the right as you slowly shift your weight onto the right leg. Plant your foot slowly and firmly as you step forward. Repeat.
Duration and intensity. Start by walking for 10 minutes, then resting for 2 to 3 minutes, then walking again for 10 minutes. Work up gradually to walking for 15 minutes, resting, then walking for another 15 minutes.