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Dec 28, 2011

Type 2 Diabetes and Exercise: A Little Goes a Long Way

For sufferers of Type 2 Diabetes, control of blood sugar is of paramount importance.  In addition to the more unpleasant methods involving needles and insulin, a recent study has shown that very brief bouts of high intensity exercise can effectively lower blood sugar.

McMaster University researchers determined that short bursts of intense exercise (as little as 75 minutes per week over two weeks) was enough to lower 24-hour blood sugar, reduce blood sugar spiking after meals, and increase skeletal muscle mitochondria (the “powerhouses” of the cells).  Although this is a small-scale study involving only 8 diabetic participants, the results are potentially significant since it indicates a reduced time investment for those diabetics trying to meet minimum weekly exercise standards.

Study participants were asked to take their blood sugar readings, assess their level of physical exertion, and take thigh muscle biopsies to assess health markers.  The exercise involved riding a stationary bike for 60 seconds, resting for 60 seconds, and repeating this for a total of 9 sequences.  Level of exertion involved a maximal target heart rate around 90%.  The total time of exertion, including a warm-up and cool-down period, was 25 minutes per workout.  

“These finding are intriguing because they suggest that exercising very strenuously for short periods of time may provide many of the same health benefits as traditional exercise training,” points out Martin Gibala, professor in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster and an author of the study.

One of the predicted mechanisms of action is improved uptake of blood sugar after meals by skeletal muscle, which would explain the dramatic lowering of 24-hour blood sugar.

Even if you are not diabetic, these results show that with exercise, a little can go a long way!

Dr. Shana McQueen