Diabetes Forecast

Fitness by the Numbers

The ideal range for your best health

By Kimberly Goad , , ,


Here’s a quick guide to the numbers you need to know to stay healthy. Are you in the healthy range?

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Number of strength-training (also known as resistance training) sessions to aim for per week. “When people talk about exercise for diabetes management, most people focus on aerobic exercise,” says Matthew Corcoran, MD, ACSM, founder and president of the Diabetes Training Camp Foundation. “But there’s clear and compelling data that a resistance-training program is as potent as aerobic exercise for A1C reduction.” That’s because muscle is the biggest user of glucose after you eat. More muscle means you use up excess glucose better. In fact, research shows that doing resistance exercises on a regular basis (think lifting dumbbells or using a resistance band) increases strength in adults with type 2 diabetes by about 50 percent and lowers A1C by 0.57 percent. That’s not all: Staying strong as you age will help you do everyday things like get dressed or put groceries away.


Maximum number of minutes at a time that it’s okay to sit without standing up, according to the American Diabetes Association’s 2017 Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes. Too much sitting is bad for pretty much everyone—it raises your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and early death—but for adults with or at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, it’s also linked to poorer blood glucose management. Don’t worry: No one’s suggesting you engage in full-on exercise every half hour. The idea is to break up bouts of sitting by simply standing. Get in the habit of taking phone calls and returning e-mails standing up. Instead of channel surfing when your favorite TV show cuts to a commercial, stand up and do a few minutes of stretching. Research shows that taking a break from sitting every half hour improves blood glucose management in adults with type 2 diabetes. The effect has not been studied in adults with type 1.

two to three

Number of times per week people with diabetes should try to do exercises that improve flexibility and balance, according to the American Diabetes Association’s 2017 Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes. Stretching improves joint flexibility and range of motion, while activities such as tai chi and yoga help prevent falls by improving balance and gait, even for people with nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy) in their feet that may make them feel numb and/or painful. “If you’ve had diabetes for a prolonged period of time and have peripheral neuropathy, which can affect the sensation and the feeling in the feet, it can affect your sense of balance,” says Corcoran. “To keep your body in balance and prevent injuries, it’s important to complement aerobic activity with flexibility and balance training.”

Make It Count

Step it up. You’ve probably heard the recommendation to get 10,000 steps per day. What you might not know is that the step goal is in addition to 150 minutes of medium-intensity exercise per week.


The number of additional steps taken per day by people with type 2 diabetes who wore a pedometer, according to a review of research studies published in a 2014 issue of BMC Medicine. Why? “It’s purely motivational,” says Robert Powell, PhD, CEP, CDE, director of the Diabetes Exercise Center at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. “If you set a goal to meet a certain amount of steps, and you see that you’re close to meeting that, it’s extra incentive.” Equally effective, says Powell: using an app such as MyFitnessPal or MapMyFitness on your phone or watch to track your steps.


Minimum number of minutes each week to spend on moderate-intensity aerobic activity, which will make your heart beat faster, your breathing quicken, and your body warm. We’re talking brisk walking, swimming, or cycling on flat ground. That’s the number researchers associate with improved blood glucose levels, a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, stronger bones, and lower levels of stress. Non-exercisers can try this strategy to get going: Start with 10 minutes per day, three days a week, and increase by 10 percent each week until you reach the 150-minute mark, suggests Powell. This slow build helps avoid tiredness and too much muscle soreness. “You’ll get benefits even below 150 minutes, but that should be the eventual goal,” he says.


Approximate number of calories you’ll burn by doing any of the following:

  • Walk 1 mile at a moderate pace.
  • Jump rope for 10 minutes.
  • Rake leaves for 20 minutes.
  • Tread water for 15 minutes.
  • Push a child in a stroller for 30 minutes.

Just Starting Out?

Corcoran suggests investing in a session or two with a certified fitness trainer who can show you proper technique while helping you create a basic strength-training routine. If you don’t want to spend the money on a trainer, ask your diabetes educator to recommend an online video site for ideas. And keep track of your progress with a fitness app.

Safety Note

Talk to your doctor before making any big changes to your exercise plan.



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