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Exercise an effective remedy against blood sugar peaks, says Dutch study

Diabetes type 2 patients who exercise regularly experience substantially lower peaks in their blood sugar levels after meals. They don’t specifically need to exercise each day for this, as has been thought until now. The effects of half-an-hour’s daily exercise are the same as longer exercise sessions (of an hour) every other day. This is apparent from a publication to appear shortly in the Diabetes Care journal, authored by PhD student Jan-Willem van Dijk and his fellow researchers from Maastricht University.

The study was conducted among 30 men with diabetes type 2, aged around 60. They participated in three experiments. In the first, they cycled for 60 minutes on the first day, followed by a rest day. During the second experiment they cycled for 30 minutes on two consecutive days. In the third experiment they didn’t exercise at all. During the exercise sessions and the subsequent days their blood sugar levels were monitored continuously. When the men didn’t exercise at all, a high blood sugar level was measured 32 percent of the time. But when they exercised, their blood sugar was in the high range only 24 percent of the time, no matter which schedule they followed.

In type 2 diabetes, the body no longer responds appropriately to insulin, a hormone responsible for transporting sugar from the blood into the cells, where it is used as fuel. This is why diabetes patients often have raised blood sugar levels, particularly after meals, causing long-term damage to blood vessels and organs. Physical exercise is therefore an effective way of combatting these peaks, according to the article in Diabetes Care. The results from this study contribute to a better coordination of exercise advice for the individual patient.

Co-author Prof. Dr. Luc van Loon, professor of exercise physiology, is enthusiastic about the research results: ‘It’s extremely unusual that such a small amount of effort can yield so much. There are in fact no medicines which could achieve this, making exercise extremely unique here. Added to this, and in contrast to all medication, the side effects of exercise also promote good health.’