Exercise Guide For Prediabetes

If you have prediabetes, you’re probably wondering what you can do to help bring your blood sugar levels back to a healthy level. 

You might feel overwhelmed and anxious about your diagnosis, which is completely understandable.

The good news is that there are things you can do to prevent your prediabetes from turning into diabetes. 

There are risk factors that you can’t control (more on that later). But there are also several aspects of your lifestyle that you can control to reverse your prediabetes.

Keep reading to learn the benefits of exercise for people with prediabetes, and a guide of four exercises you can try.

What is prediabetes?

Prediabetes is when blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Having prediabetes is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes

The American Diabetes Association estimates that around 70% of people with prediabetes will eventually develop type 2 diabetes.

Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes occur due to insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that helps lower blood glucose (blood sugar) levels. With insulin resistance, your body doesn’t produce enough insulin, or it doesn’t respond to insulin the way it should.

Unlike type 1 diabetes which is an autoimmune disease, there are several known risk factors for prediabetes. Some of the established risk factors for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes include being 45 years and older, being overweight or obese, smoking, your race, having a sedentary lifestyle, and certain genetic factors, among others.

Prediabetes is diagnosed using blood glucose tests like fasting blood sugar and the hemoglobin A1c test. The hemoglobin A1c measures your average blood sugar level over the past 60-90 days. 

You can’t feel when your blood sugar levels are slightly high. Therefore, getting screened for prediabetes and diabetes is important to receive a prompt diagnosis.

The good news is that prediabetes can be reversed so you don’t develop type 2 diabetes. The most effective way to lower your type 2 diabetes risk is to eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise.

How exercise can help prediabetes

So, how can exercise help manage or reverse prediabetes?

1) Blood sugar control

Exercise is one of the best things you can do to promote healthy blood sugar levels and lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. 

During moderate-intensity exercise like walking, your muscles and organs like your heart and lungs take up glucose to use as energy. 

Your body also stores extra sugar in the form of glycogen in your liver. This is important for keeping blood sugar levels from going low during times of fasting, illness, and long-duration exercise.

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2) Improves insulin sensitivity 

Physical activity helps improve insulin sensitivity, which helps to lower blood sugar. Insulin is a hormone the pancreas makes that allows glucose to enter the cells from the bloodstream. Without enough insulin, glucose stays in the bloodstream and accumulates as high blood sugar.

The leading cause of type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance. This is when your body doesn’t respond to insulin the way it should. 

When glycogen stores are used up during exercise, your body will pull glucose from your bloodstream to help replenish its glycogen stores. This process helps improve insulin sensitivity, which helps lower your blood sugar levels. One session of exercise can lower blood sugar for up to 16 hours after you exercise!

During more intense exercise, you use up more glycogen to provide your body with energy. The process of using glycogen for energy means blood sugar levels increase temporarily. However, glycogen depletion improves insulin sensitivity, which is why blood sugar levels are usually lower after exercise.

3) Increased muscle mass

Regular exercise can build lean muscle mass, which can also help lower blood sugar. Muscle tissue takes up extra glucose, so having more lean muscle mass can help promote healthy blood sugar levels. Having more muscle mass also increases your metabolic rate, which means you burn more calories at rest. An increased metabolic rate helps aid in weight loss.

4) Helps promote weight loss

Getting regular exercise can help promote a healthy weight. Losing 5-10% of your body weight can help improve blood sugars and reduce the risk of prediabetes progression to type 2 diabetes by almost 60%.

Many people with prediabetes are considered overweight or obese, which is why exercise and other lifestyle habits that promote sustainable weight loss are vital to the reversal of prediabetes.

Prediabetes Exercise Guide: 4 Exercises That Can Help

Prediabetes can be reversed. However, having a prediabetes diagnosis means you’re still at risk of developing it again if you don’t maintain healthy lifestyle changes. That means that lifestyle changes you make, including your exercise routine, should be sustainable.

If you make drastic changes to your physical activity level and aren’t able to maintain them, then they probably won’t be of long-term benefit to your health. The key is to choose forms of exercise that are enjoyable and realistic to maintain for the long term.

1) Cardiovascular exercise

Cardiovascular exercise is also called aerobic exercise or “cardio” for short. Aerobic means “with oxygen”; aerobic exercise causes you to breathe more rapidly to deliver oxygen to your muscle cells. 

Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, running, swimming, bicycling, and using cardio equipment like a rowing machine or elliptical trainer. Aerobic exercise also strengthens your heart muscle and improves cardiovascular health, which can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Low-impact exercises like walking and swimming are great for older people, those with diabetes-related joint pain or old injuries, or those just starting an exercise routine. Higher-impact exercise like running can cause more wear and tear on the joints and increase the risk of injury, especially if you’re not a conditioned runner or have previous injuries. 

If you enjoy exercising in a group setting, you might enjoy classes offered at your local gym or health club. If you don’t have access to a gym, plenty of guided exercise classes are available online or through apps.

2) Strength training

Weight lifting and resistance training help improve blood sugar control. Muscles take up glucose for fuel, which helps reduce blood sugar levels. 

You don’t have to have access to a gym to build muscle. Bodyweight exercises like lunges, squats, pushups, and tricep dips can all help to build muscle. Resistance bands are another tool you can utilize at home to help with strength training, as well as a set of lighter dumbbells (five to ten pounds each).

If you prefer to lift weights, having a weight bench at home or using the weights at your local gym can help build your muscle mass. If you’re lifting weights at home and are inexperienced, be sure to start slow and read up on proper technique so you don’t injure yourself.

3) High-intensity interval training

High-intensity interval training (HIIT training) is popular for maximizing efficiency during workouts. HIIT training is a type of cardio exercise alternating higher intensity movements with periods of lower intensity movements to help you recover. 

High-intensity exercise causes your heart rate to go up more than moderate-intensity exercise. This can result in more calorie and fat burning.

One of the benefits of HIIT training is that you can get a short but efficient workout while building your aerobic fitness. An example of HIIT training is sprinting for 30 seconds and then jogging for a minute and repeating that cycle for 15 minutes.

4) Sports and hobbies

Some activities that don’t necessarily feel like exercise still count as exercise. Playing sports, riding horses, skiing, and pulling weeds in your garden all provide aerobic exercise while promoting muscle growth. 

These types of activities can be the best to include because they’re hobbies you enjoy and will likely do consistently.


Exercise is a great way to help improve your blood sugar levels. If you have prediabetes, getting regular physical exercise is one of the most important things you can do to help reduce the risk of your prediabetes turning into type 2 diabetes.

When starting an exercise program, the most important aspect is choosing a sustainable and enjoyable routine. 

Cardiovascular exercise, resistance training, and high-intensity interval training are all types of exercise that can help improve your blood sugars and your overall health.

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  1. Borghouts LB, Keizer HA. Exercise and insulin sensitivity: a review. Int J Sports Med. 2000. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10683091/
  2. Praet SF, van Rooij ES, Wijtvliet A, Boonman-de Winter LJ, Enneking T, Kuipers H, Stehouwer CD, van Loon LJ. Brisk walking compared with an individualised medical fitness programme for patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomised controlled trial. Diabetologia. 2008. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18297259/

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