Rather than slaving away for hours in the gym, people should focus their attention on quick "sprints" with each workout lasting just a few minutes.
James Timmons, Heriot-Watt University professor of exercise biology has studied the effects of quick exercise. He recommends 4 x 30 second sprints on an exercise bike three times a week. He said people could reduce their risk of diabetes and heart disease substantially with short, intense workouts - with such "time-efficient" exercising appealing to busy workers. In his study, published in the journal BMC Endocrine Disorders, 16 men exercised for three sessions a week for two weeks.
Each session was made up of 4 x 30 second sprints on an exercise bike. This involved the men going as fast as they could for 30 seconds and then taking a few minutes of complete rest between each sprint.
After two weeks, Prof Timmons said the results were "substantial", with a 23% improvement in insulin function. While his research focused on young men, Prof Timmons said it would work for people of all ages and for both men and women. He said: "This study looked at the way we break down stores of glycogen. "Think about diabetes as being glucose circulating in the blood rather than stored in the muscles where it should be. "If we take out the glycogen from the muscles through exercise, then the muscles draw in that excess glucose from the blood."
He added: "If you go for a jog or a run you oxidise glycogen but you are not depleting the glycogen in your muscles. The only way to get to this glycogen is through very intense contractions of the muscles. If we can get people in their 20s, 30s and 40s doing these exercises twice a week then it could have a very dramatic effect on the future prevalence of diabetes."
He said the effects were bigger than the traditional "one hour of running per day".
The exercise routine is known as "high-intensity interval training" or HIT for short.
Prof Timmons said current guidelines on how much exercise people should take may need revising.
Diabetes UK research manager Victoria King said short duration, high-intensity training improved insulin action in young healthy males but the research had only been undertaken in a small group of people without diabetes. She said: "Whilst the improvement in the control of insulin action in those who undertook the training is interesting, it's limited at this stage as to what we can learn."