4 Must-Do Gym Exercises to Help Prevent Diabetes

05/15/2015 10:50 am ET | Updated May 15, 2016

Are you at risk for diabetes? Diabetes is reaching an all-time high. In fact, over 29 million people have diabetes. What's even more concerning (despite that shocking number) is that 86 million people have prediabetes, meaning they have higher than normal blood sugars and are likely to develop Type 2 diabetes within 5-10 years if they don't make changes. The majority of Type 2 diabetes is related to excess weight, so what you eat plays a critical role. But exercise also plays an important part in burning off excess weight and improving our overall health.

So if you've been told you have prediabetes, besides changing the way you eat, you likely need to change the way you exercise. All those changes can be confusing, so here are four gym exercises you should consider doing:

1. Skip the treadmill and hop on the elliptical.

I am a big supporter of walking -- walking up/down stairs, walking from the parking lot to entrances, walking during the morning or evening. I even have worn a pedometer for many months. But for many people at risk for diabetes, walking may not be enough. So the inevitable question: Should I use the treadmill, elliptical or exercise bikes? They all have pros/cons, and it's mostly pros. For instance, exercise bikes are low impact and fairly safe. Basically anyone can jump on, and start using it. But overall, stationary bikes don't burn that many calories and it mostly works lower body muscles. The treadmill -- whether walking or running -- involves a wider variety of muscles, including core muscles in the back and abs to stabilize your body. Treadmills can be tough on the joints and can cause injuries. In fact, last year about 24,400 people present to the emergency room with injuries from a treadmill. Most are minor, but serious events can occur. So your best bet is to use the elliptical. It provides all the benefits of the treadmill without the severe impact on joints. And when you use the elliptical, stop grabbing the handles. This causes additional stress on the spine.

2. Get on the ground and give me 50 pushups.

Forget about abdominal crunches! The pushup is by far the best exercise you can do to improve your overall fitness and thereby reduce your risk of diabetes. There are few excuses as to why you can't do them. There's no special equipment required, and you don't need to worry about proper form. If I asked you how any pushups you could do, you'd probably tell me way more than you actually can do. This is because pushups get much tougher to do as we get older. We are less flexible and carry more weight. I bet you will initially have trouble doing 10. Try working up to 25 in the morning, and 25 at night. Then go up to 50. Shaun Zetlin, a master personal trainer and fitness author on pushups suggests you should be doing 100 daily. That's a big goal but a useful one when trying to get blood sugars back to normal.

3. Forget the squat -- instead, master the lunge.

If you've spent time at the gym, you probably have heard that that the squat is the best exercise. I know everyone wants to do barbell curls and the chest press -- the classic beach muscles -- but the squat is worth your time. It's a workhorse for the lower body. But the squat can also be intimidating for many people. And doing it wrong can easily cause injury. Lately, I've been telling people to perform the lunge. It targets more total body muscles than the squat, and it help strengthens our core, promoting coordination and stability. And there is fair amount of variability you can do with this exercise -- forward lunges, side lunges, backward lunges. You'll never get bored.

4. Our grade school gym teacher was right -- we need to do chin-ups.

The chin-up is great because it works large number of muscles in our back, shoulders and arms at the same time. It even activates our abdominal muscles. These are more muscle groups than the bench press uses -- despite the fact that everyone is crowding around it, waiting to puff out their chest. (Well, at least the men are!) And no one is around doing chin-ups. And there's a reason for this -- chin-ups are are hard to do -- especially more than a few at a time. But they are well worth your time in mastering them. Nowadays, many gyms have equipment that can give assistance so you don't need to initially lift you entire body weight above the bar.

I know that many people find it difficult to work out for a variety of reasons -- some good, some just excuses. So these exercises I suggest are ways to work out smarter, maximizing the health benefit for the effort and time you contribute. If you have prediabetes, and you don't do anything about, you will likely be on medication in a few years.