Exercise Timing Matters for Diabetes
There have been lots of conflicting reports about what’s the optimum time of day to work out. Some say it’s ideal first thing in the morning to get your system revved up for the day, while others are proponents of exercising during the afternoon when body temperature is higher. For the most part, however, the essential factor is getting in your daily physical activity and doing it when it’s most convenient so that you actually stick with it. Except, it seems, if you have type 2 diabetes. New research suggests that those with this disease might benefit considerably more from doing their cardio immediately after eating.
The study, which was conducted at the University of Otego in Dunedin, New Zealand, found that taking a walk after a meal made a greater difference in blood sugar control compared to walking at any other time of day.1 The subjects were 41 adults with a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. There were two segments of the experiment, both of which involved the participants walking for a total of 150 minutes per week, modeled after the standard recommendations set by several organizations including the American Heart Association and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In the first phase of the investigation, the volunteers were asked to take a 30-minute walk at whatever time of day suited them. They then had a month-long break before the second round of research began. In this variation, it was requested that the subjects take a 10-minute walk within a period of five minutes after concluding each meal, adding up to a total of 30 minutes per day.
Blood sugar was monitored during both rounds of the research. The results showed that blood sugar levels were lowered more effectively when the subjects took a walk after each meal rather than walking for 30 minutes at a random time of day. What’s more, their blood sugar was analyzed specifically using postprandial glycemia, a post-meal measurement that determines how the body reacts to the food consumed. The testing found that postprandial glycemia was 12 percent lower in participants who were taking walks after dining versus when they walked at other points. And the most marked decrease in postprandial glycemia occurred when they walked after dinner, which garnered them a 22 percent drop.
Of course, this research was limited by the very small population sample included. It is very difficult to base any concrete determinations on results in just 41 people. Plus, it is unclear whether a similar impact would be made if the participants were doing a form of exercise other than walking. Would something that burns more fat and increases the heart rate more thoroughly such as running or taking a kickboxing class make a bigger difference or is simply getting moving after a meal enough? Then again, is it even possible to do more vigorous cardio immediately after eating a large meal without getting indigestion? In any case, further investigation with a much larger group of volunteers is necessary to obtain clear answers.
But in the meantime, it is helpful to know that something so easy as a 10-minute walk after meals can help those with type 2 diabetes keep blood sugar levels under control. This is beneficial for all of the people who say they just can’t find even a half an hour a day to devote to physical activity. If breaking it down into smaller chunks of time throughout the day makes exercise feel more manageable to you, then by all means divide it up. In fact, a 2009 study at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland showed that very short, intense bursts of exercise may prevent diabetes more effectively than long workouts.2
Ultimately, the current experiment serves as a good reminder of the value of daily exercise. It is essential to all of us, but especially for those with type 2 diabetes since it can act as an important tool for the management of the disorder. Blood sugar levels need to be well controlled or you risk heart disease, vision loss, kidney failure, and other issues. If you are able to achieve a healthy level through regular exercise and good diet choices, that means you are much less likely to require taking insulin or pharmaceutical drugs and dealing with the damage diabetes so often causes.
- 1. Reynolds, Andrew N.; et al. "Advice to walk after meals is more effective for lowering postprandial glycaemia in type 2 diabetes mellitus than advice that does not specify timing: a randomised crossover study." Diabetologia. 17 October 2016. Accessed 23 October 2016. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00125-016-4085-2.
- 2. Babraj, John A.; et al. "Extremely short duration high intensity interval training substantially improves insulin action in young healthy males." BMC Endocrine Disorders. 28 January 2009. Accessed 24 October 2016. http://bmcendocrdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1472-6823-9-3.