Runner Checking Watch

A Better (and Shorter) Workout to Fend Off Diabetes

Runner Checking WatchWe’ve all spent hours trying to get ourselves motivated to exercise, only to end up deciding to forgo that workout until tomorrow. “I’ll definitely go to the gym tomorrow,” you confidently say to yourself. And then tomorrow comes and, well, you know the drill.

Besides keeping your weight in check, and your muscles and heart strong, exercise is a key component in the treatment and prevention of numerous diseases, including diabetes. In fact, lack of exercise raises the risk of type 2 diabetes even in “normal” weight individuals, not just in those who are overweight or obese.[1]

But even though we know the many benefits of exercise, it can still be difficult to get motivated.

For starters, the current guidelines for exercise are quite general. Most organizations agree that a minimum of 150 minutes per week (30 minutes a day, five times a week) of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise is enough to prevent and treat diabetes and other diseases. But then you have some organizations that say you need to be doing 30 minutes of continuous exercise five days a week to get the maximum benefit, and others that say that activity requirements can be “accumulated” over the course of the day in 10-minute increments.

When you add to the mix demanding jobs, long commutes and family obligations, most Americans really do have very little free time to get the prescribed minimum of 30 minutes of exercise — and forget about the ideal one hour per day!

So the authors of an article published in a recent issue of Maturitas decided to examine a new exercise prescription for the old problem of diabetes.[2] Considering so many people claim to not have the time to engage in prolonged exercise sessions, could shorter bouts (1-5 minutes) of intense exercise be an effective strategy to improve health and reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes?

Prolonged vigorous exercise, as opposed to moderate, has already been shown to have a greater impact on many chronic diseases, including diabetes. But could low-volume (short spurts) of high-intensity interval training (HIT) have the same effect?

The authors state that low-volume HIT could, in fact, have a big impact on diabetes treatment and prevention because of how such workouts positively effect numerous chemical and biological pathways in the body, including the mitochondria — the energy-producing powerhouses contained in each of our cells.

How to HIT It

The basic concept of high-intensity interval training is this: First go fast (as fast as possible), then slow down, then repeat. You can apply this concept to a wide variety of workouts to achieve even better results in less time.

For an HIT aerobic jogging session, you can do the following:

  • Run fast for 2 minutes, walk slow for 30 seconds
  • Run fast for 3 minutes, walk slow for 45 seconds
  • Run fast for 4 minutes, walk slow for 1 minute
  • Repeat this cycle

You can often get as much — or even more — benefit with 20 minutes of doing this type of workout as you get from 30 or more minutes of moderate running or walking.

There are an infinite number of ways to customize an interval workout based on your fitness level and personal goals. To get the most out of high-intensity interval training, consult with a certified personal trainer, who can help you develop a workout that’s right for you. And as always, be sure you have your doctor’s blessing before engaging in any new type of workout, particularly if you have heart or other health problems.


[1] Wei M et al. Low cardiorespiratory fitness and physical inactivity as predictors of mortality in men with type 2 diabetes. Ann Intern Med. 2000;132:605-11.

[2] Bird S and Hawley J. Exercise and type 2 diabetes: New prescription for an old problem. Maturitas. 2012 Aug;72(4):311-16.