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Expert Q&A

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Does exercise help prediabetes or control blood sugar?

Asked by James R, Atlanta, Georgia

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Does exercise help prediabetes or control blood sugar? How much exercise (time) and what kind of exercise should be done for this purpose.

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi James

With diabetes, prediabetes, and metabolic syndrome (a prediabetic condition associated with an increased risk of heart disease) increasing at an alarming rate, this is a very important question. Numerous studies have shown that regular exercise improves blood sugar control and decreases insulin resistance, a condition that can lead to diabetes over time. While the results are even better when accompanied by fat loss, you can still benefit significantly from engaging in regular exercise.

I would strongly recommend adhering to the new Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans which recommends getting at least 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity or 1.25 hours of vigorous physical activity per week along with 2 or more days of resistance (muscle strengthening) training. Aerobic activity is essential for getting rid of the fat that is stored in muscle, which can lead to insulin resistance. Resistance training may also be particularly effective in preventing insulin resistance and helping control blood sugar by causing both increased absorption of blood sugar and improved metabolism of blood sugar and fat.

Some research suggests that more intense activity may be more beneficial in reducing the risk of prediabetes or metabolic syndrome so if you are able to exercise a bit more intensely for 20-30 minutes per day you may benefit even further. But don't worry, if you are unable to exercise more intensely for medical or orthopedic reasons, you will still benefit considerably from regular, moderate exercise plus strength training.

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