Burst Your Way to Better Blood Sugar

Type 2 diabetes patients gain better blood sugar control from intermittent exercise

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

(RxWiki News) As a general rule, exercise can prevent and treat type 2 diabetes. There is some debate, though, about what types of exercise are best for diabetes patients.

Intermittent exercise (alternating between short bursts of intensive exercise and rest) improves blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes. Intermittent exercise in low oxygen environments may lead to even better blood sugar control.

"Exercise to improve your blood sugar."

Loads of studies have shown that exercise improves blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes. However, this research has tended to focus on continuous exercise.

Richard Mackenzie, Ph.D., of the University of Westminster in London, and colleagues wanted to see if intermittent exercise also could provide similar benefits to diabetes patients.

"Current guidelines suggest that health benefits can be gained when patients with type 2 diabetes spend 30 minutes exercising each day," says Dr. Mackenzie, "but published data has failed to show intermittent exercise to be effective."

From their small study of eight men with type 2 diabetes, the researchers found that intermittent exercise does help these patients, especially under hypoxic (low oxygen) conditions. According to Dr. Mackenzie, physical activity in these hypoxic conditions is "similar to doing the exercise at altitudes of 2500 meters."

For the study, the eight participants tested three different types of exercise: one hour of continuous exercise in a low oxygen environment, intermittent exercise in a low oxygen environment, and intermittent exercise in a normal oxygen environment. The researchers measured participants' blood sugar and insulin (a hormone that controls blood sugar) levels after they completed each exercise.

The results showed that continuous exercise led to the greatest improvements in blood sugar control. Still, their findings about intermittent exercise are important, considering that no previous research had shown clear benefits to intermittent exercise.

The study revealed that both intermittent and continuous exercise with and without low oxygen led to improvements in blood sugar control.

Dr. Mackenzie concludes that a combination of exercise with a mildly low oxygen environment - as opposed to exercise alone - can considerably improve the body's ability to respond to insulin in people with type 2 diabetes. "Our findings suggest the possible use of exercise with mild hypoxia for the treatment of type 2 diabetes," he says.

The full results of the study are published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 2, 2012
Last Updated:
February 3, 2012