Exercise Alone Didn't Help Diabetics

Some type 2 diabetes patients who exercised saw no blood sugar control improvement

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) For many diabetes patients, exercise can be a life-changing activity for managing their blood sugar. Some diabetes patients, however, may be unable to benefit from an exercise regimen. But most people will see positive changes.

The authors of a new study found that exercise may not improve blood sugar control for type 2 diabetes patients with a genetic resistance to exercise treatment.

“Most people benefit from an exercise regimen, but our research indicates that a significant minority of individuals with type 2 diabetes do not experience the same improvements in metabolism due to their genes,” said lead study author Lauren M. Sparks, PhD, of the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in Orlando, FL, in a press statement.

This finding should not discourage people from exercising. As noted by David Winter, MD, Chief Clinical Officer, President, and Chairman of the Board of HealthTexas Provider Network (HTPN), "Exercise helps most everyone in a variety of ways."

About one fifth of the diabetes patients in this study did not respond as well to exercise as the other 80 percent, Dr. Winter explained. "Nonetheless, exercise has other benefits, which include managing stress, improving endurance, strengthening bones and assisting with weight control," he said. "Unless otherwise advised by a physician, everyone should perform regular exercise." 

Type 2 diabetes is a disease in which the body becomes resistant to insulin. Insulin is a hormone that controls blood sugar. Doctors often suggest exercise as part of a treatment plan for diabetes patients.

Dr. Sparks and team looked at many past studies on type 2 diabetes and exercise that involved thousands of patients. The studies tested both aerobic exercise (cardio) and resistance training (lifting weights).

They found that, in most cases, exercise improved blood sugar control. However, for 15 to 20 percent of these patients, exercise did not improve symptoms of type 2 diabetes.

In fact, for about 7 percent of patients in six of the studies, exercise worsened some risk factors like high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

The authors suggested that resistance to exercise treatment may be hardwired into some patients’ genes. Knowing whether a person does or does not respond to exercise may lead to better, more personalized treatment, Dr. Sparks and team noted.

“[Genetics] could hold the key to differentiating between the two groups," Dr. Sparks said. "With that information in hand, we can target specific interventions and treatments to the individuals who will benefit most and identify novel treatment approaches to help those who do not respond to exercise.”

This study was published Nov. 20 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

The American Diabetes Association funded the research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
November 19, 2014
Last Updated:
December 2, 2014