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Best Exercise for Prediabetes

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

All You Need to Know about Prediabetes and Exercise!

If you were looking for a deep dive on the best forms of exercise for prediabetes, how much you need and why exercise is so essential to preventing diabetes - especially if you already have prediabetes - you are in the right place!

Women stretching on a boardwalk in workout clothes while smiling

Exercise can be intimidating if you haven't been very active throughout your life. Or maybe you are active already but unsure if your hard work and sweat is helping you meet your goals in the most efficient way. As a dietitian with a specialty and certification in diabetes, I have seen so many clients with diabetes and prediabetes and I have seen what works, and what doesn't, when it comes to exercise for weight loss and lowering blood sugars. I have seen how frustrating it is to put in hard work at the gym week after week without seeing the results you want. I've also seen some of the frequent mistakes people make with exercise that can be easily avoided.

As a diabetes specialist I want to let you in on what I have observed over the years about the best exercise for prediabetes, so you can stop wasting time and energy on pointless physical activity that could even worsen health issues or cause injury.

Best Exercise Recommendations for Prediabetes

Only 1 in 5 adults in America gets the recommended amount of exercise to maintain our health, which is at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination each week. The USDA releases the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, similar to the Dietary Guidelines to help direct health professionals, policymakers and Americans in best practices for exercise. We utilize these grounded recommendations along with up-to-date research and a little trial and error to find out what gives us the best results for long term health and blood sugar control.


Why Is Exercise So Important?

Exercise is key to preventing diabetes, especially if you have diabetes in your family or if you already have rising labs like blood sugars, A1c, triglycerides (a type of cholesterol) or insulin. Not making exercise a part of your health plan is a common pitfall with many, and even with all the dieting in the world you can still progress into type 2 diabetes. However, finding the right exercise routine doesn't have to be as complicated as you think.

Couple about to start playing tennis while the sun sets

We know that exercise has a direct effect on lowering blood sugars and boosting both physical and mental health. Specifically, doing 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week has been shown to actually prevent diabetes and reverse insulin resistance. The way this works is every time you raise your heart rate and utilize your muscles your body is burning the most accessible fuel it has access to: glucose (sugar) in the blood stream! If you test your sugars immediately after exercise you would likely see your blood sugar level significantly lower compared to before you started exercising. Once muscles burn up the majority of sugar in the blood stream they turn to fat for their next fuel source, stimulating weight loss. Weight loss also further reduces insulin resistance, putting you and diabetes at an even further distance from each other.

The other benefit is that exercise reverses insulin resistance. Insulin is the hormone which tells our cells to take up sugar from the bloodstream and use it for energy. If you have prediabetes, you likely have insulin resistance, which means in order to manage blood sugar levels your body has to pump out higher amounts of insulin to do the job. Eventually, excess sugar in the bloodstream can be stored up as fat and contribute to weight gain. Consistent exercise boosts the action of your insulin and makes it work like it should, creating an ongoing boost of blood sugar control even hours and days beyond the exercise.

What is the Best Exercise for Prediabetes?

So what does moderate intensity mean? Basically, your breathing should be elevated above normal and heart rate should be at least 70% of your max. To calculate your max, subtract your age from 220. If you are able to hold an entire conversation or even sing while exercising you will want to bump it up a notch. And the most important thing is to be consistent. With the goal of 150 minutes a week you can break it up into 30 minutes, 5 days a week or you can get it done in 1 hour for only 3 days a week. Depending on your daily schedule consider how you could best fit it into your week.

HIIT exercises like aerobics or interval jogging are especially helpful at reaching the intensity needed to see positive effects on blood sugars and weight reduction. Here's a great example recommended by the AMA:

Man running through a beautiful landscape of mountains and a lake.

  • 3 minutes of warm up

  • 10 sprints lasting 30 seconds, alternated with 60s of recovery

  • 2 minutes of cool down

If you are new to exercise or just starting out and this seems a little overwhelming, don't be discouraged! A simple walking plan would still give you positive results as long as your heart rate is being raised throughout the majority of the walk. Put on some AirPods with a great playlist or find a friend who has also been wanting to get healthy and get moving! Again, the key is to make sure your heart rate is elevated and your exercise is intense enough.

One of my favorite exercises of late is Barre and Yoga workouts! I put a 20-30 minute video on my smart TV from YouTube taught by my favorite upbeat instructors, move the coffee table out of the way and start sweating! I also make sure that when I get home from work I immediately change into workout clothes because once I start relaxing I know it will become harder and harder to make the workout happen. Sometimes I vary my workout to keep it interesting by taking my dog for a long vigorous hike, planning in a weekend bike ride, or renting a kayak and getting out on the water for physical activity and stress relief!

How Do I Make My Exercise Routine Stick?

Sun glare over lake with 3 kayakers

Of course creating an exercise routine is sometimes easier said than done, so how do we apply this information into our lives and actually make it stick?

If you're not a fan of the gym there are many options to find something else enjoyable. Consider water aerobics, biking, kayaking, swimming, tennis, pickleball, frisbee, Zumba, pilates, hiking, weight lifting, even dancing to music in your living room! YouTube is a fantastic resource for an endless variety of exercise videos that can be done right from the comfort of your home. Finding something you enjoy (or at least can tolerate) is part of the key of making exercise stick.

Calendar or planner with a pen, clip and safety pins.

The other solution is not waiting for motivation. Set yourself up so you can't NOT do it. Write your exercise down on your calendar, bring your exercise clothes to work and mark it off after you're done. Make the first move to get started even if you don't really feel like it. Chances are you'll be glad you did and you will feel so vibrant and accomplished afterwards.

Now that you know the what, when, why and how of best exercise for prediabetes it's time to get started! Remember, you can always schedule a one-on-one virtual appointment with me where we can dive into your habits to see what's holding you back and create realistic goals that you will actually follow through on. If you are interested in learning more about my services click here.

Keep in mind, exercise is important, but it is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to preventing diabetes. To learn more, read my other blogs or follow me on instagram at @resilient.nutrition.dietitian. You can also take my Prediabetes Quiz at the bottom of this page to see how high your risk is for Type 2 Diabetes. Leave me a comment below and let me know if exercise has been a struggle, or tell me what you've found that works for you!


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