Manage, Prevent, Delay Diabetes: The Physical Activity Prescription

Written on behalf of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases’ (NIDDK) Weight-control Information Network (WIN)


Diabetes affects more than 29 million Americans. Another 86 million people—more than 1 in 3 adults—have prediabetes.

For people with or at risk for diabetes, regular physical activity helps improve insulin sensitivity and glycemic control, has a positive effect on blood pressure and cholesterol, and helps manage weight. NIDDK-supported research found a modest weight loss achieved through regular physical activity and a healthy eating plan by people at risk for type 2 diabetes could prevent or delay the disease long-term.

Encouraging Physical Activity

Health care providers can help their patients with prediabetes and diabetes to get more physical activity in two ways:

  1. Encourage people with or at risk for diabetes to set a modest initial physical activity goal. For instance, 10 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, such as walking, two to three times a week, is a place to start. In addition to aerobic activity, people with or at risk for diabetes should do physical activities that build and strengthen major muscles, such as lifting weights or using resistance bands, at least twice a week on nonconsecutive days. Advise them to gradually increase how long, how frequently, and how vigorously they are active, with the goal of reaching at least 150 minutes per week.
  2. Encourage people who are unable to be physically active for 150 minutes a week to be active according to their abilities. Consider each person’s age, fitness level, and prior experience when tailoring the rate of increase in physical activity. After evaluating people for contraindications and limitations to physical activity, work with them to develop an appropriate physical activity plan. For additional guidance on encouraging physical activity, as well as other guiding principles for diabetes care, visit the NIDDK website.

This November, during National Diabetes Month, the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP), sponsored by the NIDDK and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has made tools and resources available to help people manage their diabetes. NDEP’s National Diabetes Month website has resources for health care professionals, as well as patient-friendly content about managing diabetes with physical activity.

Regular physical activity, along with a healthy eating plan and healthy weight, is key to good health, whether for preventing, delaying, or managing diabetes or a number of other chronic diseases. WIN has information to help both adults and youth get and stay active, eat healthy, and manage their weight.


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