It’s no secret that exercise is a vital component of a healthy lifestyle. For people with type 2 diabetes, however, it could be a life-changing part of their treatment plan. Those are the findings of a new study from the University of Turku that assessed the health impact of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) on both healthy people and people with diabetes.
In the study, published April 10 in Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, the healthy men (all in their 40s and 50s) undertook a two-week training program consisting of either HIIT or traditional, moderate intensity training. A group of people with insulin resistance (some had type 2 diabetes and some had prediabetes, meaning their blood sugar levels were elevated but not yet high enough to indicate type 2 diabetes) completed a similar two-week fitness routine.
“Before the training started, the glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity of the insulin resistant people were significantly reduced compared to the group of healthy individuals,” says doctoral candidate Tanja Sjöros, as reported in Science Daily. “However, already after two weeks of high intensity training, which amounted to six training sessions, the glucose metabolism in the thigh muscles achieved the starting level of the healthy control group.”
It’s important to increase blood glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity in diabetics to avoid damage to the nerves and blood vessels, which can lead to complications such as heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, and lower-limb amputations.
Glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity improved after both the high-intensity training and the moderate intensity continuous training, suggesting that both are helpful, even though HIIT is definitely more effective. “The group that did moderate intensity training achieved only half of the improvement experienced by the HIIT group during the two-week period. Therefore, this type of training requires a longer period of time. If you have only little time to spare, high-interval training could be a great alternative to traditional training that requires more time but is lower in intensity,” says Sjöros.
Leading New York cardiologist Jennifer Haythe, MD, welcomed the results. “This is an important study demonstrating the benefits of high intensity interval training (HIIT) on glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetics,” she says. “Unlike type 1 diabetics who have an absence of endogenous insulin, type 2 diabetics have impaired insulin sensitivity leading to delayed and inadequate uptake and metabolism of glucose. The fact that HIIT can actually improve insulin uptake and sensitivity is terrific news for Type 2 diabetics. In addition, HIIT improved endurance. This is just more evidence that exercise, in this case HIIT, improves health and wellness, and can actually work like medication in patients with DM2.”