Short Bursts of High-Intensity Exercise May Improve Type 2 Diabetes

Different bodies respond differently to different physical activity regimens. In a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2015, researchers reported that multiple short bursts of high-intensity exercise did more to improve cholesterol, blood sugar and body mass index among a group of patients newly-diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes than did 30 minutes of sustained, lower-intensity exercise.

Researchers found that three months of high-intensity exercise in 10-minute bursts done three times per day, five days a week, led to an average 0.82 percent decrease in three-month blood sugar patterns. This compared with just 0.25 percent reduction among those who performed more sustained, lower-intensity exercise, also for five days a week.

Exercise helps improve cholesterol and weight as well as manage Type 2 diabetes — all risk factors for heart disease. In the past, diabetes management programs have focused mostly on low-intensity, sustained exercise.

The study was conducted in 76 patients with Type 2 diabetes (70 percent male, average age 67) who were recruited for the study shortly after their diagnosis. Patients were randomly assigned to either 30 minutes of exercise five days a week at 65 percent of their target heart rate or 10 minutes of exercise three times a day, five days a week at 85 percent of their target heart rate.

Burst exercise patients actually ended up exercising more, and overall, experienced a 2.3-fold greater improvement in HbA1c levels (a way of measuring blood sugar). In addition, they had a three-fold reduction in body mass index. Burst exercise patients also showed greater improvements in their cholesterol levels and stronger cardiac fitness, as measured by stress testing.

Researchers said it’s unclear why shorter bursts of high-intensity exercise would lead to more significant improvements compared with sustained, lower-intensity exercise. One theory is that higher intensity exercise uses energy in a different way.

“We are hoping to continue looking at burst exercise and sustained exercise in larger and more diverse patient populations,” said lead study author Avinash Pandey, an undergraduate at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada. “With further study, burst exercise may become a viable alternative to the current standard of care of low-intensity, sustained exercise for diabetes rehabilitation.”

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