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updated 5/13/2012 11:54:11 AM ET 2012-05-13T15:54:11

To ward off diabetes, the solution is simple, according to a new study: Move more. The more you exercise, the better your body handles blood sugar and insulin, scientists found.

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It may sound obvious, but up until now research had actually showed mixed results on the effect of cardio on blood sugar. This is the first study to show that the more exercise you do, the better your insulin sensitivity.

For this study, researchers had 55 healthy people who weren’t already exercising come into the lab and work out three to five times per week. After four months, the researchers found that people who had burned the most calories per week saw the greatest improvement in insulin sensitivity. What’s more, higher-intensity workouts — boosting the number of calories you burn per minute — also made a significant impact in slowing the path to diabetes.

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Here’s why: As you continue to exercise at least once every few days, your body learns to handle insulin more efficiently, which helps prevent type-2 diabetes, says study author Francesca Amati, M.D., Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the University of Lausanne.

Our advice? Work smarter, not longer. Add this interval routine to the end of every workout: Walk for 60 seconds, followed by a 30-second sprint, for four cycles. (You can also do the same slow-fast ratio on an exercise bike, rowing machine, or in the pool.) If you’re strapped for time, make this your workout for the day. (If diabetes runs in your family, you need to watch your weight, too. Make sure you know The Truth About Calories.)

That’s a mere six minutes of running, but you should feel completely cashed out by the end. Follow each interval routine with a 10-minute walk or jog. “That will both flush out lactic acid and extend your calorie burn as your heart rate tapers down,” says Tom Holland, M.S. Not tough enough for you? Work up to only 30 seconds or even 15 seconds of walking between your sprints, for up to 10 cycles.

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