Diabetes Forecast

The Healthy Living Magazine

How to Get 150 Minutes of Exercise Each Week

By Sara Angle , , ,

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Safety Note: Check with your health care provider before starting or changing your exercise plan.

You’ve likely heard that getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week can help you manage your diabetes. But dedicating that much time to exercise can seem daunting if you’re busy, don’t enjoy working out, or have diabetes-related complications that make physical activity difficult. Here’s the surprising part: Tackling 150 minutes of exercise is much easier than you might think. Don’t believe us? Keep reading to see how.

Numbers Game

Any physical activity is better than none at all, but most health organizations and the U.S. government say you need a minimum of 150 minutes of activity per week to reap significant results. But a slow stroll won’t cut it. To benefit, you’ll need to work out at a moderate intensity (at this pace, you’ll be able to talk, but not sing).

“The goal is to reduce the risk of mortality; improve endurance, blood pressure, and blood sugar control; and reduce lipids,” says Jacqueline Shahar, MEd, RCEP, CDE, manager of the Clinical Exercise Physiology Department at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. Research has shown that doing 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise can reduce your chances of heart disease and premature death, compared with being sedentary. This is key for people with diabetes, who already have a higher risk of heart disease.

CHANGE YOUR OUTLOOK

Instead of viewing weekly exercise as one huge goal, think of it as a series of mini goals. It’s much easier to swallow an exercise prescription of 150 minutes a week if you chop it into smaller doses, says Karen Kemmis, PT, DPT, MS, CDE, FAADE, a physical therapist at SUNY Upstate Medical University and president-elect of the American Association of Diabetes Educators.

Spread It Out

Depending on your schedule and preference, you could aim for 50 minutes of exercise three times a week, 30 minutes five times a week, or 25 minutes six times a week.

Each breakdown will have a slightly different impact on your blood glucose. “Every time we exercise, our muscles increase how much glucose they take up during the session, but also for hours afterward,” says Shahar.

To really reap the benefits of exercise on glucose control, keep your muscles in a constant state of increased glucose uptake. To do that, go no more than 48 hours between exercise sessions, says Kara Mitchell, RDN, exercise physiologist and certified diabetes educator at Duke Health and Fitness Center. To maximize the benefits, aim to exercise five to six days a week.

Shorten Your Sessions

It’s easy to brush exercise aside if you don’t have a 30- to 60-minute chunk of time, but you don’t need a wide-open schedule to meet your fitness goals. Research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that people may have more success with shorter, more frequent bouts of activity than longer, continuous sessions. “If the goal is shorter, it feels more realistic,” says Mitchell.

Think about three spots in your day where you could fit in 10 minutes of exercise. It could be a 10-minute jump rope session before work, a 10-minute walk at lunchtime, and 10 minutes on an exercise bike after dinner.

The health benefits remain: 10 minutes of exercise three times a day gives you the same cardiovascular benefit as 30 minutes at one time, according to research from Arizona State University. Just don’t go too fun-sized with your sessions, says Kemmis. When you’re working at a moderate intensity, sweat sessions that clock in at 10 minutes or more are the most beneficial for heart health.

If you’ve been cleared by your doctor for vigorous-intensity exercise—you’ll know you’re at this level if it’s difficult to say more than a few words before catching your breath—you can try even shorter bursts of all-out effort. It may have a greater impact on lowering your blood glucose. One study, published in 2014 in the Journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, found that people with insulin resistance had lower post-meal blood glucose when they did six minutes of high-intensity walking before a meal compared with 30 minutes of moderate-intensity walking before a meal.

SET A SMART GOAL

If a goal is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound, “there is a higher chance of sustaining the new behavior, seeing results, and avoiding any lapses or relapses,” says Shahar.

Tailor Exercise to Your Fitness Level

Are you a novice exerciser or total pro? It makes a big difference in the type of exercise routine that will work best for you.

If you’re new to fitness, create goals that help you gradually build toward 150 minutes of exercise. If you sit at a desk all day and don’t have an exercise routine, your first goal might be to get up from your desk twice every hour and do a walking tour of the office. From there, add 10 minutes of exercise a week until you reach the 150-minute mark. “How long it takes you to get to that goal isn’t as important as taking the steps to get there,” says Matthew Corcoran, MD, ACSM, founder and president of the Diabetes Training Camp Foundation.

Think Small

You’re more likely to reach a realistic goal. Sure, you might be aiming for 150 minutes of mountain biking each week. But you might also fill those 150 minutes with shorter, less-intense activities. Something as simple as vacuuming for 10 minutes could get your heart rate up, says Mitchell. Doing this type of mini activity throughout the day is a more realistic and attainable fitness goal for people who have diabetes-related complications, too.

Those small bouts of activity can also have an impact on your diabetes management. A study published in the journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care found that walking up and down stairs for just three minutes after meals improved blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

Make Time for Fitness

A successful exercise routine complements the demands of your day. To find a time that works for you, think about when you have availability and when you’re at your most energized. “When do you perform your best and feel good? That’s the time that will make you want to exercise again and again,” says Shahar.

If you work a nine-to-five job, for instance, squeezing in exercise at the end of the day might be tricky—work may run late, your family may need you, and social events may vie for your time. But if that’s when you feel your best, try Mitchell’s trick: Keep an extra set of workout wear at the office so you can exercise before you go home. “Once we’re home, we tend to have a harder time getting back out,” she says.

Your medication regimen may also affect your workout timing. Certain diabetes drugs, such as insulin and sulfonylureas, can increase your risk for low blood glucose (hypoglycemia). Add in the blood glucose–lowering effect of exercise, and your evening workout may up your risk of overnight lows. In that case, you might be more likely to stick with a morning or afternoon workout regimen. Sometimes, a change to your medication regimen may make your workout goals more realistic. If you aim to exercise two to three hours after eating, for instance, you may need to reduce your premeal bolus of rapid-acting insulin to prevent lows. 

STAY MOTIVATED

Choosing an activity you enjoy, creating a log to monitor your progress, and preparing for snags—all of these can help keep you motivated. 

Have Fun

“You have to make exercise fun if you’re going to stick with it,” says Shahar. Nobody wants to do 150 minutes of something they don’t enjoy.

A 2016 study from Humboldt University in Berlin surveyed people with consistent exercise routines they loved (and therefore stuck with) and found that the best workouts involved novelty, feeling successful, being part of a community, and feeling physically challenged. Find workouts that will check off those boxes for you—say, a dance class, a pickleball league, or a walking club.

Track Your Progress

Logging your workouts can help you track just how many of those 150 minutes of exercise you have left to meet this week. Make sure your exercise goals are right in front of you every day to act as a visual reminder, says Kemmis. That could mean a calendar on your wall, a day planner on your desk, or an app on your phone or computer.

Excuse-Proof Your Plan

Come up with an alternative workout option for days the weather isn’t great or things don’t go as planned, says Shahar. Instead of cycling outside, you could walk laps at the local mall, use the elliptical machine at the gym, or do 10 minutes of stair-climbing at home. When you’re making a lifestyle change, you have to be comfortable with being flexible. “If it’s a slow week, maybe you do more, and if it’s a tough week, it’s OK to do less,” Mitchell says.

Enlisting a friend to exercise with you is another way to ensure you won’t bail on plans. A 2017 study in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that those who worked out with a partner exercised more than those who worked out alone. It could even motivate you to go the extra mile. When exercisers warmed up together, they increased their speed and endurance throughout the workout more than when they warmed up on their own, found a 2015 study at the University of Oxford.


With so many options to get your sweat on, reaching 150 minutes of weekly exercise is totally doable—even with a hectic schedule. As for all those minutes? They’ll fly by!

The Difference 150 Minutes Makes

  • Improves glood glucose, as well as blood pressure and endurance
  • Reduces lipids
  • Reduces your chance of heart disease and premature death

 
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