Interval training lowers blood sugar and reduces fat in type 2 diabetes patients

 Three participants from the study doing 10 seconds of maximum sprinting. Credit: Claus Bjørn Larsen

Type 2 diabetics can achieve significant results across several health parameters through interval training shows a new study from the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports at the University of Copenhagen. The new knowledge contrasts with international training recommendations for people with type 2 diabetes.

According to the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention more than 34 million Americans have diabetes and even more have prediabetes, the precursor to the disease. The disease has been globally widespread despite the fact that we know that physical activity plays a key role in treating and preventing diabetes. Physical activity lowers blood sugar levels, improves the body's ability to absorb sugar from blood, and strengthens muscle and bone.

A shorter workout, with greater effect

The American Diabetes Association's (ADA) international recommendations on physical activity suggest a minimum of 150 minutes of physical activity per week at moderate intensity. However, a new study carried out at the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports at the University of Copenhagen demonstrates that a greater impact can be achieved, in significantly less time, through workouts three times a week, of only 19 minutes, following a 10-minute warm-up.

 In the study, 44 subjects with type 2 diabetes were randomly divided into two groups. Over 10 weeks, the groups trained on cycles in a gym located in Copenhagen. One group adhered to the ADA's recommendation of 150 minutes of weekly physical activity at moderate intensity. Subjects in the other group trained three times a week, for 19 minutes - with an additional 10 minutes of warm-up - according to the 10-20-30 training method. 10-20-30 training is carried out in inverse order with 30 seconds biking at low intensity, followed by 20 seconds at moderate intensity and 10 seconds of maximum sprinting in the end. This is repeated five times to complete one round. Participants complete three rounds per workout with a two-minute break between each round.

 Reducing the 'dangerous' fat

The results showed that, after 10 weeks, the group that trained using intervals achieved significantly lower blood sugar levels and a reduction in visceral fat, known as 'the dangerous fat', which is build up around internal organs. There were no changes among participants of the other training group in relation to blood sugar and visceral fat. Both groups decreased fat mass and increased aerobic fitness. The results were achieved in the interval group despite spending 42% less time on workouts than suggested in the ADA's minimum recommendations.

 "The results of this study could contribute to changing the approach to physical activity among diabetes patients," says Thomas Baasch-Skytte, who was involved in the study and PhD student at the University of Copenhagen's Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports. He adds: "We know that time is a crucial factor in people's busy lives. For many, it means a lot to be able to achieve more, in less time, through interval training. The study was conducted in such a way that allowed participants to manage and plan their own training sessions. This means that, to a large degree, these results can be transferred to reality."

 Professor Jens Bangsbo of the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports supports the assertion. Bangsbo headed the study and emphasizes that the results have something to offer for both individuals and society:

 "It is noteworthy that there are such pronounced differences between the 10-20-30 workout regimen and the ADA's recommendations for type 2 diabetes. Blood sugar and visceral fat are two key factors when we talk about diabetes. So, it is important for diabetes patients to be able to effectively impact these parameters. From a socio-economic perspective, the results are also important, as they suggest that proper training can contribute to significantly reducing the need for medication," concludes Bangsbo.

 

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