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When to Exercise for Best Blood Sugar Control

Fitness and blood sugar control

If you have diabetes, you are probably well aware that you should be exercising most days of the week to improve your blood sugar levels. The most often heard excuse for not doing this is time constraints. No more! New research suggests that a short burst of exercise right before eating can control blood sugar levels just as well as one daily 30-minute session.

Regular activity is one of the four key factors in managing diabetes, along with proper meal planning, taking medications as prescribed and stress management. When you are active, your cells become more sensitive to insulin so that it can work more efficiently. During exercise, you also give your body the ability to remove glucose from the blood in a mechanism totally separate from insulin.

What else can exercise do for you? Not only is it important for overall well-being it can help:

• lowers blood pressure and cholesterol
• lowers your risk for heart disease and stroke
• burns calories to help you lose or maintain weight
• increases your energy for daily activities
• helps you sleep better
• relieves stress
• strengthens your heart and improves your blood circulation
• strengthens your muscles and bones
• keeps your joints flexible
• improves your balance to prevent falls
• reduces symptoms of depression and improves quality of life

But of course, we all have busy days and exercise seems to always fall to the bottom of the priority list. With new research suggesting that it really doesn’t take as much time as you think to see great benefits, though, we need reset our priorities!

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Professor James Cotter from the University of Otago in New Zealand studied nine individuals – 2 women and 7 men between the ages of 18 and 55 (mean age 48). All had blood test results showing insulin resistance but were not on medication. The participants completed two types of exercise interventions – a traditional continuous exercise comprising one 30-minute moderate intensity workout or six one-minute intense exercise “snacks” which were completed 30 minutes before a meal.

The team of researchers found that short bursts of exercise controlled blood sugar more effectively than the continuous routine. Even those who completed less-intense exercise “snacks” (say, walking a short distance instead of jogging) found blood-sugar reduction benefits as well, but had to complete the exercise daily whereas those who had completed more intense sessions could perform them every other day.

"The notion of doing small amounts of interval exercise before meals is a unique and very important feature of this study," says Monique Francois, one of the study leaders. "Sustained hyperglycemia following meals is an important feature of insulin resistance. Reducing these post-meal spikes is important for reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and its associated complications."

She adds: "Dosing these small amounts of high intensity exercise before meals (particularly breakfast and dinner) may be a more time efficient way to get exercise into people's day, rather than devoting a large chunk of the day."

Journal Reference:
Monique E. Francois, James C. Baldi, Patrick J. Manning, Samuel J. E. Lucas, John A. Hawley, Michael J. A. Williams, James D. Cotter. ‘Exercise snacks’ before meals: a novel strategy to improve glycaemic control in individuals with insulin resistance. Diabetologia, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s00125-014-3244-6

Additional Resource:
American Diabetes Association – Physical Activity is Important