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Intermittent Exercise Improves Glucose for People with Diabetes

New study finds exercise in low oxygen environment may result in improved insulin sensitivity….

Intermittent exercise with and without low oxygen concentrations (or hypoxia) can improve insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetics, however exercise while under hypoxic conditions provides greater improvements in glycemic control than intermittent exercise alone, according to a recent study.

Exercise improves glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes. Previous studies have focused on continuous aerobic exercise with more recent work assessing resistance exercise. There are few studies that assess the effects of intermittent exercise on glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity in type 2 diabetes.

Richard Mackenzie, PhD, of the University of Westminster in London, U.K., and lead author of the study stated that, “Current guidelines suggest that health benefits can be gained when patients with type 2 diabetes spend 30 minutes exercising each day, but published data has failed to show intermittent exercise to be effective.” “Here we have shown that intermittent exercise seems to improve the glucose profiles of type 2 diabetics with a greater positive effect when intermittent exercise is combined with mild hypoxia, similar to doing the exercise at altitudes of 2500 meters.”

In this study, eight men with type 2 diabetes completed three exercise trials: 60 minutes of continuous exercise in hypoxia, intermittent exercise in hypoxia and intermittent exercise in a normal oxygen environment. After each exercise trial, study participants returned to the laboratory for measurement of blood glucose and plasma insulin levels. Researchers found that both intermittent and continuous exercise with and without hypoxia consistently demonstrated improvements in insulin sensitivity.

“A combination of moderately reduced oxygen levels with exercise can significantly improve the body’s ability to respond to insulin in type 2 diabetic patients over exercise alone,” said Dr. Mackenzie. “Our findings suggest the possible use of exercise with mild hypoxic for the treatment of type 2 diabetes.”

Practice Pearls:
  • An hour’s worth of continuous exercise in hypoxic conditions improves glycemic control among type 2 diabetics.
  • Point out that intermittently exercising can also improve glucose control, but not to the same extent as continuous exercise and also has an advantage when done in hypoxic conditions.

Mackenzie R, et al “Intermittent exercise with and without hypoxia improves insulin sensitivity in individuals with type 2 diabetes” J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2012; DOI: 10.1210/jc.2011-2829.