Even a little activity is better than no activity at all. Prescribing cardio exercise is a way to prevent overweight and obese youth from developing type 2 diabetes.

More about prescribing exercise for diabetes prevention

In children in the U.S., obesity is on the rise. In fact, a third of elementary-age children are overweight or obese. The specific risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes in youth include being overweight, belonging to a minority ethnicity, and having a family history of diabetes. This study looked at how much exercise one needs to make a difference in preventing type 2 diabetes (as measured by insulin resistance). This study compared 3 groups of overweight and obese children, most of whom had prediabetes, who got varying amounts of cardio/aerobic exercise. The first group exercised intensely for 20 minutes a day, the second group exercised at the same intensity for 40 minutes a day, and the third group did not exercise at all. The children in the first 2 groups participated in the exact same type of intense exercise to get their hearts rates up, including activities like running, playing tag, and completing obstacle courses.

The results were very surprising to the research team, led by Dr. Catherine Davis at The Medical College of Georgia. She expected to find that the group that exercised for 40 minutes would have bigger gains in diabetes prevention than the group that only exercised for half that amount of time. However, she found that the effect was the same in both the high-dose and low-dose exercise groups. So, 20 minutes a day is enough to really make a difference in diabetes risk if the heart rates are getting up. Of course, she found that if weight loss is the goal, then the longer a child exercised, the more fat they will lose and the more calories they will burn. Because of these results, the researchers recommend that schools incorporate small doses of intense exercise for students into the school day so that kids aren’t expected to be sitting all day. Any activity is better than no activity at all. If your heart rate gets up, then 20 minutes is all you need. Even interrupting sitting with simple physical activities is shown to be very helpful in overall health and fitness level.

Getting your heart rate up consistently has major benefits not only for physical health, but also for brain health, cognitive ability, mood, and happiness. In order to successfully prevent type 2 diabetes, there needs to be a lifestyle change, but it doesn’t have to be a huge transformation on a large scale. A little change can make a big difference. The researchers of this study suggest that doctors start discussing physical activity with their patients and assessing the fitness level for prevention purposes.

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Photo courtesy of  Mil Familias © 2018