Diabetes and Exercise: Can Exercise Reduce Your Risk?

How Are Diabetes and Exercise Linked?

When it comes to diabetes and exercise, it’s all about getting started and staying consistent and we want to help you fight diabetes. Check out these diabetes and exercise tips and a quick workout video below to get you started!

Diabetes and Exercise: Quick breakdown

More than 29 million Americans — or nearly one in four — are living with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.

An additional 1.4 million people are diagnosed with diabetes each year, making this a major public health issue. Type 2 diabetes, the most prevalent type, is associated with other chronic diseases and a significantly lower life expectancy.

Thus, it is important to take steps to reduce your risk for diabetes.

One of the greatest controllable risk factors for diabetes is a sedentary lifestyle. Understanding how exercise can reduce your risk for diabetes may prevent you from developing this harmful disease.

Evaluating the Evidence: Does Exercise Lower Diabetes Risk?

diabetes and exerciseNumerous scientific studies have shown a direct link between physical activity and Type 2 diabetes. People who frequently exercise have a significantly lower risk of diabetes.

In fact, along with a healthy diet, exercising is one of the most effective lifestyle changes you can make to lower your diabetes risk.

How does exercise impact your diabetes risk? When you engage in aerobic exercise, your muscle tissue needs a constant supply of glucose.

Exercising causes your muscle cells to become more sensitive to insulin, the hormone that circulates through your bloodstream and tells your cells to take up more glucose. This causes you to clear glucose from the blood more quickly.

The effects of higher insulin sensitivity are compounded by the fact that aerobic exercise causes your blood flow to increase, giving your muscles even more glucose to absorb. Thus, aerobic exercise can prevent or even reverse glucose insensitivity, a hallmark of Type 2 diabetes.

Exercise also helps you burn more calories, lowering your risk of obesity. There is a strong link between being significantly overweight and Type 2 diabetes.

In particular, having body fat in the stomach or midsection is associated with a higher diabetes risk. Exercising helps your body metabolize fat, decreasing your overall body fat percentage. In fact, aerobic exercise seems to preferentially target abdominal fat, making it a great way to prevent diabetes.

Exercise Guidelines to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

People often wonder how much exercise is needed to prevent Type 2 diabetes (consult your doctor for personalized recommendations). While the answer differs for each person, the American College of Sports Medicine has developed guidelines for American adults to stay healthy and lower their risk of chronic disease.

These guidelines emphasize two important forms of exercise — aerobic activity and strength training.

To prevent diabetes, aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week (for 150 minutes per week total). Moderate-intensity exercise should cause you to break into a light sweat and begin to breathe more heavily.

Walking briskly, heavy gardening, step aerobics, or dancing are great ways to get moderate-intensity physical exercise. Alternatively, you can engage in vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise for 75 minutes per week.

Vigorous-intensity exercise includes activities that cause you to breathe very heavily and break a moderate sweat. This could include jogging, swimming, plyometrics, or cycling.

In addition to aerobic exercise, it is important to engage in strength training at least twice per week. This builds lean muscle tissue and decreases your risk of bone-related health problems.

People at risk for Type 2 diabetes should work all of their major muscle groups to build strength and muscle tone. This includes exercises to work the arms, legs, back, shoulders, and abdominal muscles.

If you currently live a sedentary lifestyle, it’s OK — and even encouraged — to start slow with a new exercise routine. Begin by walking around your block, parking farther away at the grocery store, or taking the stairs more frequently. Once you are comfortable with these steps, increase your exercise duration and intensity.

Exercise Must Be Used in Conjunction With Other Preventative Efforts

Although exercise can reduce your risk of diabetes, exercise alone is not necessarily sufficient to prevent the disease. Other factors also contribute to your risk.

Some of these are unavoidable — such as age, race, genetics, and family history. However, there are other modifiable risk factors that you can control:

  • Diet: Eating a diet high in added sugars, saturated and trans fats, and sodium may significantly elevate your diabetes risk. Combine exercise with a healthy diet that emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nonfat dairy products to prevent diabetes.
  • Obesity: Keeping your weight within a healthy range lowers your risk.
  • High cholesterol or triglycerides levels: Diet and exercise can both help to lower cholesterol and triglycerides levels, which further reduces your diabetes risk.


Lifestyle changes to lower your risk of diabetes can begin today!

Start by adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet, and engaging in moderate-intensity physical activity to prevent Type 2 diabetes.

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