A Few Ways Cardio Can Improve Diabetes

CARDIO – ugh, even typing cardio gives me a stitch in my side. Is there anything worse than cardio?

If you ask me the answer is a resounding No – There is nothing worse than cardio. Hold on, I need to catch my breath.


               Cardio has been a struggle for me since adolescence. I’ve always stayed active, but my endurance withered away from middle school until it bottomed out in my mid 20’s, where walking to the mailbox had me gasping for air.

It’s not a great way to live, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who loathes the idea of running.

That being said, the benefits of aerobic exercise for people with diabetes has been extensively studied and most public health organizations recommend physical activity to help control blood glucose, body weight, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure.

Cardio has been shown to reduce blood glucose levels and improve insulin action in individuals with diabetes (study).

One study (plus many others) showed a 16% reduction in risk in developing T2D, Plus, overall –

“those who achieved the physical activity goal had 44% lower diabetes incidence.”

The American Diabetes Association recommends just 2.5 hours of moderate intensity exercise (E.g. brisk walking) a week and can be broken up throughout the week or even throughout a given day and still be beneficial.

Exercise moves blood glucose into the muscles where it is broken down and combined with the oxygen you breathe to create the fuel your body needs.

In non-diabetics, this process is about the same whether at rest or while exercising.

However, people with diabetes process significantly less blood glucose while at rest, making exercise all the more important! (study).

Cardio has some great non-health benefits as well – namely: it’s super cheap and easy to get started.

Each activity has its own pros and cons and don’t forget, you can combine these so you won’t get bored.

So whether you’re running, cycling, swimming, stair climbing, using an elliptical, you can match these to your budget and schedule.

There are many different activities that can be considered “cardio”, but the main one that comes to mind is running.

Running has some distinct advantages over other types of cardio, the biggest advantage is that it’s free and you can basically do it anywhere.

You don’t need equipment or a swimming pool to work out like you may with some other activities like cycling or swimming. But like most things that are good for you, they’re not always fun.

So, how do you get started?

Walking is a great way to get started especially if you have been sedentary for a long time and are unable to do more than a moderate-intensity exercise.

It’s a low-impact activity that doesn’t put much pressure on joints and it utilizes some of the biggest muscle groups in the body – getting more bang for the buck, as they say.

Walking can also be used to jump-start more intense exercises such as *drum roll* RUNNING.

Most of my disdain for running started from a mild case of exercise-induced asthma that I have had since I played pee-wee sports.

Not being able to breathe is not fun and I quickly associated that feeling with exertion.

So how did I get around it?

Well, besides rescue inhalers, I realized that the only way I could be successful with this was to only bite off as much as I could chew. I knew I could handle short runs and I could definitely walk.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Luckily, the exercise I was looking for already existed – High-Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT for short.

HIIT is repeated periods of short, fast sprints for a certain distance with a brief cool down period. HIIT is great because you adjust intensity, sprint distance, and cool down periods to suit your fitness level.

For example, I can run 100 yards repeatedly if you give me a few minutes between them.

My current regimen is run for 30 seconds with a cooldown period of brisk walking for 1 and a half minutes.

I do this for about 30 minutes about 4-5x a week. I have an interval timer on my phone that I can set up to ding at the appropriate intervals. Right now I can only run about 80% of my full speed and still make it all 30 minutes, but I know this will improve as I go.

I can also change this up and sprint for shorter intervals with more cooldown time or jog for longer intervals with shorter cooldown time.

Flexibility is the name of the game – suit the exercise to what you can do – Otherwise, you’ll give up and that’s not what we want.

Moderate Intensity Training (MIT)

Moderate intensity training is a more common cardio option we all know as “jogging”. Or yogging… jogging?

The leisurely pace of jogging allows for longer distances to be covered at a steady pace. It also includes cycling and swimming.

You may remember the ADA’s recommendation of moderate intensity activity I mentioned above, but don’t confuse that with MIT.

MIT is not mowing your lawn or taking the dog for a walk, it is a higher intensity exercise.

Research shows that MIT has greater cardiovascular benefits than HIIT which is something to consider when deciding on your regimen. Personally, I find jogging difficult, which is why I chose HIIT.

Check out our Resource page for supplements and products that will make cardio MUCH easier and your life sweeter.


This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Medically peer reviewed by Dr. Kenneth LeCroy, MD. Written by Our Editorial Team.

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