Reviewed by Keith Barnard, MD
Aug. 5, 2014 — Periods of power walking mixed with strolling at a more leisurely pace may be a more effective way for people with diabetes to control their blood sugar levels, rather than walking at a constant speed, according to a small study.
Exercise helps people with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar levels. Although high-intensity exercise offers the prospect of better control, doctors often warn against that approach, due to the risk of injury and the likelihood someone will not stay with it.
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen previously highlighted the value of interval-walking training, where the intensity of the training alternates. Their latest study analyzes how this technique helps patients.
People with type 2 diabetes were randomly put in 3 groups. Twelve were put into a program of interval-walking training (IWT), another 12 were assigned to a group using a constant walking approach (CWT), and the rest formed a baseline group.
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Training consisted of five 1-hour sessions each week for 4 months. The researchers gave the groups precise instructions about their exercise regime, although the training was unsupervised.
A device was used to measure blood sugar levels and insulin production in each of the volunteers at the start and end of the study period.
The researchers found improved blood sugar control only among those who had mixed power walking with slower walking. This was probably caused by an increase in insulin sensitivity (or, in general, how well your body uses insulin), they write.
“Whether these beneficial effects of IWT continue and result in better health outcomes in the long term must be determined in order to justify the clinical [use] of interval training for people with type 2 diabetes,” the researchers say.
The research is published in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.
Commenting on the findings in a statement, Dr. Richard Elliott, Diabetes UK’s research communications manager, says: “This small study builds on previous evidence to suggest that interval training, involving alternating periods of high- and low-intensity exercise, might help people with type 2 diabetes to manage their blood [sugar] levels. It found that interval training seemed to be linked to improvements in insulin sensitivity around the body.
“Further research is needed to find out if this form of exercise yields greater long-term health benefits for people with type 2 diabetes than other forms of physical activity, and of course, it might not be suitable for everyone with the condition.
“We know that the best way to manage type 2 diabetes is to follow medications prescribed by your doctor and to maintain a healthy weight by taking regular exercise and by eating a healthy balanced diet that is low in salt, fat, and sugar, and high in fruit and vegetables.”