- High intensity interval training (HIIT) combats high insulin resistance
- Women at risk for diabetes showed lower glucose levels after 10-week course
- A different study found intensive exercise and a strict diet brought big benefits
- Half of diabetes patients no longer needed their glucose-lowering medications
When it comes to reducing the risk of diabetes – or managing the condition if you already have it – there’s a consistent message in some camps: a little exercise is always better than none.
But now new research has revealed that a gentle walk here and there is not enough to prevent or controlling it – high intensity interval training (HIIT) is what works.
One new study has found that this type – which involves short burst of high-intensity exercise followed by a brief low-intensity activity, repeatedly – combats high insulin resistance, a warning sign for the chronic disease.
The finding comes as another study discovered that a programme of intensive exercise and a strict diet worked so well that half of participants no longer needed their glucose-lowering medications.
However, not all experts agree and one warned that diabetics should not come off their drugs and advised that a healthy lifestyle should always be adopted in combination with medication.
Spanish study: Key findings
In the first study, a team led by Professor Mikel Izquierdo from the The Public University of Navarre in Pamplona, Spain, notes that patients at risk for type 2 diabetes are often asked to exercise, yet it doesn’t always help patients.
To investigate this variability, they analysed 40 women divided into two groups – those with high and low levels of insulin resistance – who were underwent a 10-week programme of HIIT.
Higher insulin resistance means the body starts failing to respond to insulin, a hormone which helps our bodies process glucose in muscles and liver – and this failure causes diabetes.
The researchers found that ‘most women’ at risk for type 2 diabetes show improved heart health, lower glucose levels and normal insulin levels after the course.
And the greatest improvements were in women at higher risk, said the report, published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.
Women in both groups lost weight and body fat after the exercise programme.
Over time, insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes and prediabetes because the beta cells fail to keep up with the body’s increased need for insulin.
Exercise lowers blood sugar levels because muscles which are working use more glucose than those that are resting.
Denmark study: Key points
The second study found that more exercise is definitely better for lowering blood sugar levels among diabetics.
Researchers from Copenhagen hospital Rigshospitale took 100 type 2 diabetes patients and half followed a ‘standard’ diabetes care plan while the rest were given a more intense lifestyle regime.
All patients had been diagnosed for less than 10 years, and none had complications from the disease.
The intense group carried out exercise – both endurance and resistance training – five to six times per week for 30 to 60 minutes per session.
They also followed a strict diet rich in fruit and fibre, low in saturated fats and containing no processed food.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, concluded that an intensive lifestyle management brought blood sugar levels into a nondiabetic range.
In addition, three-quarters of those in the intensive group needed less diabetes medication, while only one-quarter of the standard care group lowered their medications, the researchers reported.
However, Dr Joel Zonszein, director of the clinical diabetes center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York told HealthDay: ‘I also treat my patients with lifestyle changes. But it’s not one or the other.
‘Both medicine and lifestyle changes are important. When you use the two together, they work much better.’
The study’s senior researcher, Mathias Ried-Larsen, said: ‘It’s important to consider the cost-effectiveness of medications along with their cost. A lot of expense comes from treating diabetes complications.’