The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Preventing and Managing Diabetes with Exercise

Posted in

Thursday, Nov 14, 2019

Diabetes affects over 30 million people across the country and is a leading cause of blindness, amputation, heart disease, kidney failure, and early death. Regular exercise may be the key to reversing this trend.

Physical inactivity and obesity may be the greatest threats to the health of Americans at any age. A whopping 40% of American adults and 18% of children are now considered obese and the numbers are rising. As obesity rates, and our waistlines, continue to grow so does the risk of developing diabetes.

There are many types of diabetes - gestational diabetes, type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes - but type 2 diabetes accounts for 90-95% of all cases and is the easiest to prevent and manage through healthy lifestyle choices. Many people with prediabetes will go on to develop type 2 diabetes if they don’t take action to improve their health and fitness.

What is my risk of developing diabetes?

There are many contributing factors to developing prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. In fact, 84 million people in the U.S. have prediabetes and 90% of them don’t even know it. To know your risk level, you can take the 60-second risk test from the American Diabetes Association.

It includes some of the following risk factors:

  • Are you 45+ or older?
  • Are you Black, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander?
  • Do you have a parent, brother or sister with diabetes?
  • Are you overweight or obese?
  • Are you physically inactive?
  • Do you have high blood pressure or take medicine for high blood pressure?
  • Do you have low HDL cholesterol and/or high triglycerides?
  • Do/Did you have/had diabetes during pregnancy?
  • Have you been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?

What type of exercise is best for diabetes?

Exercise is key to preventing and managing gestational and type 2 diabetes, and for managing type 1 diabetes. Reducing your risk can be as simple as moving more each day and being more cognizant of what you eat. However, only about 20% of Americans meet the minimum recommendation of 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity, along with two days a week of strength training.

The best type of exercise to prevent or manage diabetes is the one you will do regularly. Some studies have looked at whether people should do more aerobic or more strength training. The studies found that a combination of strength training and aerobic exercise is the most effective.

To meet the physical activity recommendation of at least 150 minutes per week, one approach is to aim for at least five days of aerobic activity with two days of strength training worked in. Aerobic activity includes your typical “cardio” workouts such as brisk walking, running, stair climbing, swimming, biking, hiking, or using the treadmill or elliptical machines. Strength training can include free weights, circuit machines at the gym, or exercises that use your body weight as resistance.

Workouts don’t have to be long sessions either. The daily minutes can be accumulated throughout the day however you wish. All activities count.  

Can Vitamin D help reduce my risk of developing diabetes?

There is growing evidence that vitamin D deficiency is quite common in those with diabetes and that a higher intake of vitamin D may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. While scientists aren’t exactly sure why yet, there is evidence that vitamin D may have a favorable effect on insulin secretion by the pancreas.

In any case, people with low fitness levels and higher body weight are at greater risk of vitamin D deficiency. People with darker skin tones are at the greatest risk - nearly 80% of African-Americans are vitamin D deficient. Correct dosages can vary greatly, so ask your doctor for a blood-level vitamin D test and make sure you are taking the right amount. Recent studies by The Cooper Institute also show that vitamin D may have an added benefit of also preventing memory loss and depression as you age.

Top Tips to Prevent and Manage Diabetes

Overall, the best way to prevent and manage diabetes is by making healthy lifestyle choices:

  1. Exercise regularly
  2. Eat healthy
  3. Check vitamin D levels
  4. Manage blood pressure
  5. Maintain healthy cholesterol levels
  6. Ask your doctor to check your hemoglobin A1-c level

By staying active and eating healthy, most people can prevent or better manage type 2 diabetes and live #WELLintothefuture.