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Experts say daily exercise is a good way to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. mapodile/Getty Images
  • Researchers are reporting that women who take more than 10,000 steps per day have a significantly lower risk of type 2 diabetes than women who took fewer steps.
  • Experts say cardiovascular exercise combined with strength training is an effective way to stay fit.
  • They also recommend a healthy diet, one that avoids ultra-processed foods and limits carbohydrates.
  • They also say getting adequate sleep and reducing stress is also helpful.

Women who walked 10,700 steps daily reduced their risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to women who took fewer steps, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Type 2 diabetes makes up 90 to 95 percent of all cases of diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is diagnosed more often in people older than 45, although cases are increasing in children and teens.

The recent study looked at the relationship between physical activity and type 2 diabetes by analyzing data from wearable devices such as Fitbits.

The researchers reported that people who spent more time in any physical activity had a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

“Our data shows the importance of moving your body every day to lower your risk of diabetes,” said Dr. Andrew Perry, a cardiovascular research fellow at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee, in a press release.

The researchers looked at Fitbit data for 5,677 participants using information from the All of Us Research Program at the National Institutes of Health.

About 75 percent of the participants studied were female. During the four-year follow-up, there were 97 new diagnoses of type 2 diabetes.

Comparing people who walked 10,700 steps daily to those with 6,000 steps, the risk of diabetes for those with the higher number of steps was reduced by 44%.

“I encourage and suggest to patients to wear a Fitbit or any type of smart device if it motivates them to become more active,” said Dr. Neal Patel, DO, a family medicine specialist with Providence St. Joseph Hospital in California. “I believe technology is a gift and a curse, but in this aspect, technology is a tremendous gift to those who have difficulties starting their journey to becoming physically active.”

“Having quantitative and objective real-life data that patients see in real-time is very powerful,” Patel told Healthline. “These technologies allow patients to graph metrics like heart rate, the number of steps, the amount of time they spend walking/exercising, etc. Graphing seeing a visual representation of their progress helps them understand their strengths and weaknesses.”

“Smartwatches have also created apps for communities to become physically active together, which is a great motivator,” he added. “I find patients coming into my office now more aware of their step count and finding pride in the number of steps that they take.”

Walking and other physical activities are important ways to prevent or manage type 2 diabetes.

“I tell my patients, ‘you have a body to use. So, use it! If your legs and arms work, then you should move them,’ Patel said.

“For those who can, I recommend cardio exercises such as running, using the treadmill, swimming, or biking at least 3 to 4 times per week for approximately 30 minutes,” he added. “I am a big advocate of weight and strength training, so I recommend my patients lift weights (they can start light and increase appropriately) at least 2 to 3 times per week.”

“If they are not into weights, then calisthenics is also a great way to do complex exercises, such as squatting, planking, push-ups, and pull-ups,” Patel advised. “People who have diabetes can participate in these types of activities unless they have a physical disability.”

Watching what you eat is essential to prevent and manage diabetes, says Anne Danahy, a registered dietitian in Arizona and owner of CravingSomethingHealthy.com.

She suggested to Healthline several tips for a healthy diet.

1. Skip the ultra-processed foods and get back in the kitchen. “I’ve seen many people prevent a diabetes diagnosis by skipping highly processed packaged and fast foods and cooking meals from scratch. Ultra-processed foods are full of refined carbs, sugar, and unhealthy fats… Instead of relying on the drive-through and packaged foods, stock up on whole ancient grains, legumes, and fresh and frozen vegetables. These are healthy, complex carbs that… [are] also far more filling, so you’ll eat less, promoting weight loss. Use these healthy carbs as the base for soups, chili, salads, or stir-fry recipes.”

2. Limit your carbohydrates to no more than 1/4 of your plate. “All carb-rich foods — even the healthy ones- turn into glucose (sugar) when digested. The more you eat, the more they affect your blood sugar. You can still get the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutritional benefits that healthy carbs (fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and dairy) provide by eating small servings and spreading them throughout the day. Most people only need about 20 to 45 grams of carbs at each meal. Balance the rest of your plate with lean proteins (fish, chicken, eggs, Greek yogurt, tofu), lots of non-starchy vegetables, and healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocado, and a drizzle of olive oil.”

Danahy also offered these other recommendations as ways to lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.

1. Get more sleep. “Quality sleep is highly underrated and overlooked, but it’s one of the most important things you can do for your health. If you don’t sleep long enough (7 to 9 hours per night) or [don’t] sleep through the night, your insulin doesn’t work as well as it should. Poor sleep also kicks up your hunger hormones and boosts cortisol levels, which mess with your blood sugar and insulin.”

2. Get a handle on your stress. “Chronic stress is another cortisol booster that plays a significant role in raising blood sugar and promoting diabetes. Experiment with various stress management/mind-body techniques like yoga, meditation, tai chi, or cognitive behavioral therapy. Find what works for you and stick with it.”

3. Complement your walking program with 2 to 3 days of strength training. “This is vital for women because we have less muscle mass than men, and we lose it quickly after menopause. Building muscle (and reducing body fat) helps your cells become more [sensitive] to insulin. That means glucose is more easily transported from your blood to your cells. The key to successful strength training is finding the activities you enjoy. Some people love weights or CrossFit classes, while others love Pilates. The most effective type of exercise is the one you do consistently.”