By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“While meditating as we walk, we can experience how our bodies feel much more intensely than we can either while doing a sitting meditation or simply walking with our normally scattered mental energy. Instead of thinking of the past or of the future — which our minds are into essentially all the time before we learn to meditate — we can feel all the pleasant sensations as well as the pain that parts of our body is telling us as we move along. This experience can be intense, and that intensity can in turn give us intense pleasure and even joy.” – David Mendosa
Type 2 diabetes is a common and increasingly prevalent illness that is largely preventable. Although this has been called adult-onset diabetes it is increasingly being diagnosed in children. It is estimated that 30 million people in the United States have diabetes and the numbers are growing. One of the reasons for the increasing incidence of Type 2 Diabetes is its association with overweight and obesity which is becoming epidemic in the industrialized world. Diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. In addition, diabetes is heavily associated with other diseases such as cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, stroke, blindness, kidney disease, and circulatory problems leading to amputations. As a result, diabetes doubles the risk of death of any cause compared to individuals of the same age without diabetes. Type 2 Diabetes results from a resistance of tissues, especially fat tissues, to the ability of insulin to promote the uptake of glucose from the blood. As a result, blood sugar levels rise producing hyperglycemia.
A leading cause of this tissue resistance to insulin is overweight and obesity and a sedentary life style. Hence, treatment and prevention of Type 2 Diabetes focuses on diet, exercise, and weight control. Recently, mindfulness practices have been shown to be helpful in managing diabetes.
A mindfulness practice that combines mindfulness with exercise is yoga and it has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of Type II Diabetes. Mindfulness can also be combined with other exercises. Walking has been frequently combined with meditation. This suggests that a walking meditation practice might be helpful in the treatment of Type 2 Diabetes.
In today’s Research News article “Effects of Buddhist walking meditation on glycemic control and vascular function in patients with type 2 diabetes.” See:
or below, Gainey and colleagues recruited adults with Type 2 Diabetes and had them walk for 40 minutes on a treadmill at a moderate intensity (50% to 70% of maximum heart rate). They randomly assigned them to either a continue the walking exercise or to practice mindfulness (focusing attention on each foot striking the floor) while performing the walking exercise for a 12-week period. Measurements were taken before and after the 12-week walking exercise of Body mass index (BMI), maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max), muscle strength, artery dilatation and stiffness, blood pressure, fasting blood glucose, insulin, HbA1c, lipid profile and plasma cortisol concentrations.
They found that both groups showed improvements in maximal oxygen consumption, arterial dilatation, fasting blood glucose, suggesting that walking exercise regardless of the inclusion of meditation improves blood glucose levels and cardiovascular fitness in patients with type 2 diabetes. Only walking meditation, however, reduced HbA1c, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, arterial stiffness and plasma cortisol concentration suggesting that the inclusion of meditation practice with the walking was effective in improving glycemic control, vascular function, and cardiopulmonary fitness, as well as reducing stress levels in patients with type 2 diabetes. The reduced HbA1c levels are particularly significant as HbA1c levels are a measure of long-term glycemic control the “gold standard” marker of diabetes control.
These results are quite remarkable. The exact same exercise has significantly greater benefit for patients with type 2 diabetes when it employs mindfulness while engaging in the exercise. This effect might have occurred in part because mindfulness training produces a reduction in sympathetic nervous system activity and increases parasympathetic activity, thereby reducing activation during exercise. This improved physiological relaxation may increase the impact of the exercise. Mindfulness training has been shown to reduce the physiological and psychological responses to stress. This may make the exercise less stressful and more enjoyable, maximizing its impact.
Regardless of the explanation the results clearly suggest that you can improve type II diabetes with walking meditation. They further suggest that combining mindfulness with virtually any exercise may make it more beneficial for patients with type 2 diabetes and possibly for any disease which can be helped with exercise. This should be a rich area for future research.
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
“Meditation is a way of relaxing the mind through techniques such as focusing and controlled breathing. People meditate to reduce stress and relieve a variety of physical ailments. Recent research showed meditation can also help people with diabetes control their blood sugar levels.” – ADW Diabetes
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Gainey A, Himathongkam T, Tanaka H, Suksom D. Effects of Buddhist walking meditation on glycemic control and vascular function in patients with type 2 diabetes. Complement Ther Med. 2016 Jun;26:92-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2016.03.009. Epub 2016 Mar 10.
OBJECTIVE: To investigate and compare the effects of Buddhist walking meditation and traditional walking on glycemic control and vascular function in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus.
METHODS: Twenty three patients with type 2 diabetes (50-75 years) were randomly allocated into traditional walking exercise (WE; n=11) or Buddhism-based walking meditation exercise (WM; n=12). Both groups performed a 12-week exercise program that consisted of walking on the treadmill at exercise intensity of 50-70% maximum heart rate for 30min/session, 3 times/week. In the WM training program, the participants performed walking on the treadmill while concentrated on foot stepping by voiced “Budd” and “Dha” with each foot step that contacted the floor to practice mindfulness while walking.
RESULTS: After 12 weeks, maximal oxygen consumption increased and fasting blood glucose level decreased significantly in both groups (p<0.05). Significant decrease in HbA1c and both systolic and diastolic blood pressure were observed only in the WM group. Flow-mediated dilatation increased significantly (p<0.05) in both exercise groups but arterial stiffness was improved only in the WM group. Blood cortisol level was reduced (p<0.05) only in the WM group.
CONCLUSION: Buddhist walking meditation exercise produced a multitude of favorable effects, often superior to traditional walking program, in patients with type 2 diabetes.