New American Diabetes Association Physical Activity Guidelines

Three Minutes at a Time
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) has released new physical activity guidelines. These should apply to everyone who spends most of his or her time sitting, lying down, or standing still.

The new guidelines, outlined in the journal Diabetes Care on October 25, have some interesting additions. As reported in HealthDay, they call for moving more throughout the day[1], not just in formal “exercise.”

In a press release[2] announcing the guidelines, the ADA writes that to improve blood sugar management, people with diabetes should do three or more minutes of light activity every 30 minutes during prolonged periods of sitting, such as working on a computer, attending a meeting, or watching TV.

For many people, “prolonged periods of sitting” describes our entire day. We sit at work; we sit for entertainment; we sit in cars. Disabled people like me have to sit for everything. The ADA guidelines say we should break that sitting up with any movement we can.

According to the ADA, “Studies have shown improved blood sugar management when prolonged sitting is interrupted every 30 minutes — with three minutes or more of standing or light-intensity activities, such as:

• leg lifts or extensions;
• overhead arm stretches;
• desk chair swivels;
• torso twists;
• side lunges; and
• walking in place.”


Another idea is to simply stop sitting and stand up for three minutes or more. You can do shallow knee bends or go from tip-toe to toes up without attracting any attention. Some advise working some of the time in a standing position.

If you’re like me, you will need reminders to do these things. It’s pretty easy to program most devices to remind you without disturbing anyone else.

The ADA’s focus is on glucose control. The report says, “Physical movement improves blood sugar management in people who have sedentary jobs and in people who are overweight, obese, and who have difficulty maintaining blood sugars in a healthy range.”

There are additional benefits beyond blood sugar control. Movement helps maintain circulation in the legs and pelvis, which may help with problems like neuropathy and sexual dysfunction.

Movement can also relieve pain and help you function better. As a physical therapist told me, “If you sit in a chair all day, you turn into a chair.”

Unfolding from the chair and moving in various ways makes you more flexible. It keeps you in touch with your body.

While three minutes every half hour is good, it doesn’t replace longer periods of exercise. The guidelines suggest specific options including aerobic activity, stretching, balance, and strength training.

There are dozens of exercise forms you can try, including some you can see here[3].

The recommendations are adjusted for different types of diabetes, age, and health status and presence of complications. Ask your doctor or educator what is right for you or read the guidelines here[4].

When politicians bicker about health care, we all lose, says Scott Coulter. Bookmark[5] and tune in tomorrow to read more.

  1. throughout the day:
  2. press release:
  3. see here:
  4. guidelines here:

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David Spero: David Spero has been a nurse for 40 years and has lived with multiple sclerosis for 30 years. He is the author of four books: The Art of Getting Well: Maximizing Health When You Have a Chronic Illness (Hunter House 2002), Diabetes: Sugar-coated Crisis — Who Gets It, Who Profits, and How to Stop It (New Society 2006, Diabetes Heroes (Jim Healthy 2014), and The Inn by the Healing Path: Stories on the road to wellness (Smashwords 2015.) He writes for Diabetes Self-Management and Pain-Free Living (formerly Arthritis Self-Management) magazines. His website is His blog is

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