Last updated: Apr 30, 2015
pump-iron-get-healthy
Getty Images

You know that exercise helps you get slim and toned, but you may not know how important it is when it comes to controlling (or avoiding!) diabetes: Movement helps your body burn off excess blood sugar and handle insulin more efficiently.

But it's not just how active you are—the type of exercise you do also matters. A 2014 study published in the journal Diabetologia found that a fitness program incorporating cardio and resistance training may offer better control over blood sugar than either one alone. The reason: During exercise, glucose is driven out of the bloodstream and into the muscles for fuel. The more muscle you have, the more excess blood sugar can be burned.

RELATED: 10 Habits of People Who Love to Work Out

Adding in strength moves is even more important if you're trying to lose weight, says Osama Hamdy, MD, medical director of the Obesity Clinical Program at Joslin Diabetes Center of Harvard Medical School and author of The Diabetes Breakthrough. "You want to lose fat, not muscle," he explains. Plus, building muscle will help you torch more calories all day long, so you maintain your weight loss.

No matter your fitness level, Anna Kaiser, a celebrity trainer and founder of AKT InMotion in New York City, has the best routine for you. "Change the focus of the strength moves each day," she suggests. "Concentrate on your core on day one, upper body on day two and lower body on day three."

RELATED: Drop an Entire Dress Size With This Speedy Strength Workout

Beginner

First check with your doc, then ease into it: Work out three days a week using an interval format. Start with 30 seconds of cardio (maybe walking uphill on a treadmill), rest for 90 seconds, then transition into a strength move (like holding a plank for 30 seconds), followed by 90 seconds of rest. Continue with intervals for 10 to 20 minutes, alternating between cardio and strength.

Intermediate

Up your workouts to four or five 20- to 30-minute sessions a week. Increase the intensity of your cardio intervals (e.g., walk on an incline with weights, or run) and the length of your intervals (three minutes of cardio, one minute of rest, one minute of strength, another minute of rest, then repeat). Try adding 5- to 8-pound weights to your strength exercises, and work on all planes of motion (lateral and curtsy lunges for the lower body).

RELATED: The Best Post-Workout Stretches

Advanced

Add power elements (turn a squat into a jump squat, or do burpees). Make intervals shorter and more intense: Try 20-second bursts, followed by 10 seconds of rest. (For example, sprint for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, do burpees for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, hold a plank for 20 seconds, rest for one minute, then repeat.) Continue for 20 to 30 minutes.