People at risk for diabetes have been told by doctors for years that engaging in a regular exercise program can be a very helpful strategy for naturally stabilizing blood sugar levels. Typically, patients are told that they require at least forty-five minutes of moderately strenuous activity each day in order to see beneficial results.
To meet these requirements, most people try to do a single forty-five minute exercise routine per day. However, a large proportion of people at risk for diabetes are in their 70s and 80s, or are obese. These people may find it challenging to meet the forty-five minute exercise requirement, and for many, it is a completely unrealistic pursuit.
This compelled Dr. Loretta DiPietro, lead researcher of a study recently published in the journal Diabetes Care, and chair of the Department of Exercise Science at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, to find a more accessible way for people prone to type 2 diabetes to still get the benefits of exercise. Rather than the amount of exercise, she aimed to determine whether the timing of that exercise may play a critical factor in it’s ability to help vulnerable people naturally regulate blood sugar and not fall victim to type 2 diabetes.
Half an hour after a meal, the digestive process is well under way. The digestive system begins releasing nutrients, proteins, and sugars into the blood stream. This moment is crucial, most especially for a diabetic whose malfunctioning insulin response fails to safely clear out sugars from the blood and transport them into the body’s muscles and tissues. This is why Dr. Loretta DiPietro, lead researcher of the study, hypothesized that a mildly rigorous 15 minute walk performed thirty minutes after one’s meal may make all the difference in blood sugar stability for someone who is prone to type 2 diabetic. According to DiPietro, “the muscle contractions, all by themselves, will help clear the glucose.” She explains that muscle contractions caused by leg movements lead to the release of glut4 transporter proteins, which are tiny proteins that allow muscle cells to more easily absorb blood sugar.
These findings demonstrate that less mobile individuals do not have to struggle through forty-five minutes of exercise in one go. They can simply take short walks after every meal and obtain similar results to reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes. This research can also be applied to other cases where prolonged activity may prove too strenuous. An example would be to reduce the risk of diabetes in pregnant women.
While more research is needed before scientists can confidently claim that post-meal exercise is a diabetes preventative, the results of this initial study are promising. The research team released a statement saying that “the findings… offer powerful evidence that smaller doses of exercise repeated several times per day have greater overall benefit to blood-sugar control among older people than one large sustained dose – especially if those short bouts are timed just right,” DiPietro said.
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