Diabetes Exercise: Harder, Faster, Shorter

Type 2 diabetes patients benefit from high intensity exercise

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) About two and a half hours of exercise per week is proven to prevent and treat diabetes. But for some, it can be hard to fit that much exercise time into their schedules. New research shows there may be a different way.

High-intensity exercise for 30 minutes per week can improve a number of markers of type 2 diabetes, including blood sugar levels.

"Exercise to prevent or treat diabetes."

The American Diabetes Association suggests that people get 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per week.

However, a recent study - which was conducted by Dr. Jonathan Little, of the University of British Columbia Okanagan, and colleagues - shows that 30 minutes of high-intensity exercise within a 75 minute total time commitment can produce benefits similar to the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise.

"I am a huge proponent of working shorter duration, high intensity workout sessions," says Jim Crowell, owner and head trainer of Integrated Fitness. "When you workout intensely you activate more of the muscle fibers of the muscles that you are working.

The more that you activate muscle fibers, the better they tone and build strength. But when you workout with a fast pace, you are also activating your aerobic energy pathway, which is a great way to burn fat. If you maintain intense workouts, you will see fat burn and added muscle strength in a big way."

While high-intensity workouts can be beneficial to everyone, Dr. Little and colleagues found that high-intensity exercise can help in the fight against diabetes.

They found that high-intensity exercise can lower overall blood sugar levels, reduce spikes in blood sugar after meals, and increase skeletal mitochondrial capacity (a sign of metabolic health).

For their proof-of-principle study, the researchers recruited eight patients with type 2 diabetes. Before the volunteers began their exercise program, the researchers measured fitness levels and 24-hour blood sugar levels.

They also took biopsies from volunteers' thighs to measure mitochondrial protein levels.

For two weeks, the volunteers underwent six supervised training sessions that involved high-intensity exercise on a stationary bike. At the end of two weeks, the researchers measured volunteers' blood sugar and fitness levels once again. They also took another muscle biopsy.

All of the volunteers had lower blood sugar levels. There was a reduction in both 24-hour blood sugar levels and blood sugar spikes after meals.

The biopsies showed increased amounts of mitochondrial proteins, which suggests that the volunteers had improved metabolic health.

Generally, diabetes patients should seek to lower their body mass through exercise. Even though the patients in this study did not achieve this goal, they did improve how much high-intensity exercise they could achieve on the stationary bike. They also decreased their heart rate during exercise.

Both of these achievements are signs of improved fitness.

The study's results suggest that diabetes patients can get similar benefits from short, high-intensity exercise as they do with longer, moderate-intensity exercise.

While this study was small in size, it lays the groundwork for future research on diabetes and exercise.

According to the study's authors, "Given that the majority of individuals with and without type 2 diabetes do not accumulate sufficient exercise to achieve health benefits, and the most common cited barrier to regular exercise is a lack of time, our results suggest that low-volume high-intensity training may be a viable, time-efficient strategy to improve health in patients with type 2 diabetes."

In other words, a lot of people say they do not have enough time to get the recommended amount of exercise. The results of this study show that they can get the same benefits from high-intensity exercise, while also reducing the amount of time they have to spend on exercise.

More large scale studies are needed in order to confirm these results.

The results of this study are published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 13, 2011
Last Updated:
December 15, 2011