Two New Studies May Change the Way Your Doctors Tell You to Exercise

Two studies, both published this week in Diabetologia, investigated the effect timing and duration of exercise has on type 2 diabetes management and incidence, and found some potentially guideline-changing results.  The first study, conducted at the University of Otago between 2013 and 2015, followed 41 patients with type 2 diabetes and randomly assigned them to a control group, where they walked 30 minutes a day for two weeks, or a treatment group, where the participants walked 10 minutes three times a day, each after a meal.  After the two weeks, both groups underwent a 30-day “wash-out” period, and then switched treatments for another two weeks.

The researchers found that those who walked 10 minutes immediately after a meal three times a day had blood glucose levels that dropped 12% on average post-meal than their counterparts.  This was particularly important for the post-dinner walk, in which there was a 22% glycemic drop during the 3-hours after the exercise, especially when the meal was carb-heavy.  This was a huge part of the overall finding, considering activity levels are most sedentary after dinner and before going to bed.

Post-meal levels of glucose are a huge determining factor in overall glucose control as well as cardiovascular risk.  These new, more controlled levels of glucose could potentially allow individuals to avoid an increased insulin dose or additional insulin injections around mealtimes.  This would be very helpful for individuals with type 2 diabetes, as insulin can actually contribute to weight gain.

Current guidelines recommend that individuals with type 2 diabetes participate in at least 30 minutes a day of moderate activity at least five days a week.  Previously, it has been reported that the exercise could be performed all at once, or separated throughout the day, with no significant benefit between the two.  Now, however, it seems that post-meal walking of at least 10 minutes at a time, is a more beneficial, and more feasible prescription.

Additionally, the second study published was a meta-analysis of 23 cohort studies across the globe, including in the United States, Europe, Australia, and Asia.  In these studies, the activity level of 1.2 million non-diabetic individuals was studied.  With the current guidelines for exercise with type 2 diabetes, the average individual is suggested to achieve at least an 11.25 metabolic equivalent of task (MET) hours per week of moderate activity.  This corresponds to the 30 minutes a day of moderate activity five times a week.  However, the study discovered that those who reached this level of activity decreased their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 26%, while those who reached a total of 60 MET hours per week decreased their risk by 50%!

While it may come as no surprise to hear that exercise frequency and intensity can lower the risk of developing T2D, it is very interesting to hear that for those already managing the condition, taking a brief, 10 minute walk post-mealtime every day could suffice for the recommended exercise guidelines and may actually be a more feasible, less strenuous method for many individuals.

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