The Importance of Exercise in Diabetes Prevention


When I was younger two of my grandparents were diagnosed with diabetes. For years, I have checked the boxes on my health questionnaires stating that I do in fact have a family history of diabetes which of course meant that I will also have it one day. Thankfully, we are all starting to learn that we do not have to inherit all of our family diseases.  Through nutritious choices and fitness we are learning that there is a possibility of  avoiding diabetes and the disease in some cases can actually be reversed.

So here is what happens to blood sugar when you exercise…..

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In typical physiology, when a person takes in sugar, the pancreas is stimulated to release insulin and this lowers blood sugar. In a glucose intolerant person the pancreas is not properly producing insulin and the sugar remains in the blood stream.

With moderate  exercise, which is the key, the muscles will take up glucose at 20 times the normal rate which levels blood sugar (WebMD, 2013). It is important to note that moderate is the key because strenuous exercise will stress your body and release glucose and a sprint will cause your liver to release stored glucose rather than take it up from the blood (Web MD, 2013).

So what is moderate exercise?

Dancing for cardio

Dancing for cardio

This is a guide that I found from National Institutes of Health and I loved it:

Common Chores

  • Washing and waxing a car for 45–60 minutes
  • Washing windows or floors for 45–60 minutes
  • Gardening for 30–45 minutes
  • Wheeling self in wheelchair for 30–40 minutes
  • Pushing a stroller 1.5 miles in 30 minutes
  • Raking leaves for 30 minutes
  • Walking 2 miles in 30 minutes (15 min/mile)
  • Shoveling snow for 15 minutes
  • Stairwalking for 15 minutes

Sporting Activities

  • Playing volleyball for 45–60 minutes
  • Playing touch football for 45 minutes
  • Walking 1.75 miles in 35 minutes (20 min/mile)
  • Basketball (shooting baskets) for 30 minutes
  • Bicycling 5 miles in 30 minutes
  • Dancing fast (social) for 30 minutes
  • Water aerobics for 30 minutes
  • Swimming laps for 20 minutes
  • Basketball (playing game) for 15–20 minutes
  • Bicycling 4 miles in 15 minutes
  • Jumping rope for 15 minutes
  • Running 1.5 miles in 15 minutes (10 min/mile)

This exercise should be done most days of the week, if not all.

As will all new exercises, speak to your MD or Physical Therapist first to see how to best begin.

Where is the research behind this all?

Exercise in the prevention of diabetes has been shown to reduce the risk of Diabetes (Type 2) by 58% in persons at high risk (this is based off of 30 minutes of walking 5-7 times per week) (Knowler, et al).

A group of 4 cohort studies showed that lifestyle change (increasing exercise and modifying diet to decrease unhealthy fats and simple carbs) decreased the incidence of diabetes by 28-59% (Walker, et al. (2010).

In a Chinese study, 577 people who had impaired glucose were divided into three categories: a control, exercise or diet and exercise. The exercise group had a significantly less incidence of diabetes compared to the control group 41% incidence (exercise) versus 68% for the control (Gang, et al 2007).

Even a change in leisure time activity can make a huge difference. Once study showed that those who changed their leisure time activities to be moderate-vigorous were 49-65% less likely to develop diabetes compared to the group who were doing low level intensity leisure time (Gange, et al 2007).

So hopefully you have learned….

  • Exercise can be a great tool in an effort to avoid diabetes in your lifetime
  • Exercise is a great addition to a diabetic person’s daily habits, provided they are talking to an MD or PT prior to starting a program
  • Exercise is great and we should all try to incorporate at least 30 minutes a day of it into our lives


Gang, H., Lakka, T. A., Kilpeläinen, T. O., & Tuomilehto, J. (2007). Epidemiological studies of exercise in diabetes prevention. AppliedPhysiology, Nutrition & Metabolism, 32(3), 583-595. doi:10.1139/H07-030

Guide to Physical Activity. (ND). National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Retrieved from

Knowler WC, Barrett-Connor E, Fowler SE, Hamman RF, Lachin JM, Walker EA, Nathan DM. Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group.

Just How Much Exercise. (ND). American Diabetes Association. Retrieved from

Type 2 Diabetes and Exercise. (ND). Diabetes Health Center. Retrieved from

Walker, K. Z., O’Dea, K. K., Gomez, M. M., Girgis, S. S., & Colagiuri, R. R. (2010). Diet and exercise in the prevention of diabetes. Journal Of Human Nutrition & Dietetics, 23(4), 344-352. doi:10.1111/j.1365-277X.2010.01061.x


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