Regular exercise is essential for preventing type 2 diabetes. If you already have the disease, physical activity can help you manage your blood sugar levels and maintain a healthy weight. But it’s not just the amount of exercise you get that’s important, a study published in October 2016 suggests. It’s also when you exercise that can help keep the condition under control.
Researchers in New Zealand studied 41 people (average age 60) who had type 2 diabetes. In the randomized trial conducted over two weeks, some were instructed to walk for 30 minutes a day in one chunk of time. The rest walked for 10 minutes shortly after each meal. Those who walked after eating experienced a 22 percent greater reduction in post-meal glycemic levels than those who simply walked for 30 minutes at a stretch. Walking after dinner, which tends to be a carbohydrate-rich meal, provided the greatest benefit.
Why more is better
A second study, published in the same issue of Diabetologia, is more significant for people who are trying to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes in the first place. Researchers analyzed data from more than 1 million people and found that while any amount of physical activity is good for you, the benefits of exercise are greater for those who engage in moderate to vigorous exercise: 150 hours a week (30 minutes five times a week) led to a 26 percent diabetes risk reduction; 300 hours a week (about one hour of exercise five days a week) reduced risk by 36 percent. The American Diabetes Association recommends 150 minutes of exercise per week.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, currently one in three Americans will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime.
“The findings from both these studies are extremely significant,” says Arcy Segura, M.A., diabetes health education manager at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y. “We have always known that exercise is a key component for glucose control, and this research confirms that.”
Are the recommendations realistic? Yes, Segura says. “In my experience with patients, many struggle with exercise. But they should feel confident in their ability to get in 10 minutes after meals versus having to put in longer chunks of time.”
Christina Frank is an editor at Remedy Health Media in New York City. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, Glamour, Health, Redbook, WebMD, and elsewhere.