Short sessions of high-intensity exercise may provide more health benefits for people with type 2 diabetes than longer bouts of less intense activity, a new Canadian study suggests.
The research included 76 adults recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Their average age was 67. They were randomly assigned to do either one 30-minute exercise session five days a week at 65 percent of their target heart rate, or three 10-minute workouts a day, five days a week, at 85 percent of their target heart rate.
The participants were assessed three months later. Compared to those in the lower-intensity group, those in the high-intensity group did more exercise and had larger decreases in cholesterol and blood sugar levels, lost more weight, and had greater improvements in heart health.
The patients in the high-intensity group showed a more than two-fold greater decrease in hemoglobin A1C levels. A1C is a blood test that provides a rough estimate of average blood sugar levels for the past two to three months, according to the American Diabetes Association.
While it was already known that exercise benefits people with type 2 diabetes, the focus has been on low-intensity, sustained workouts, said study co-author Avinash Pandey, an undergraduate student at the University of Western Ontario.
“However, more may be accomplished with short bursts of vigorous exercise, in which patients achieve a higher maximum target heart rate, and may be easier to fit into busy schedules,” Pandey said in an American Heart Association news release.
He also noted that since people could fit the high-intensity exercise into their schedules, they were more consistent with exercise and ended up working out more each week.
High-intensity exercise may use energy in a different way from less intense workouts, the study authors suggested.
Pandey added that the researchers hope to study bursts of intensive exercise in larger and more diverse groups of people.
“With further study, burst exercise may become a viable alternative to the current standard of care of low-intensity, sustained exercise for diabetes rehabilitation,” he said.
The study was scheduled to be presented Tuesday at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. Findings presented at meetings are generally viewed as preliminary until they’ve been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about diabetes and exercise.