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Is ‘Exercise Snacking’ the New Way to Help Manage Blood Sugar?

For those trying to manage blood sugar, a healthy diet is key. However, while food choice is important, getting adequate physical activity is, too.

Many Americans fall short when it comes to the U.S. federal guidelines for physical activity, and this is especially true for people with type 2 diabetes. Research has shown that just 39 percent of people with type 2 diabetes engage in regular physical activity, compared to the 58 percent without diabetes who engage in regular physical activity (1). While taking up a new exercise routine may sound daunting, the truth is that those looking to improve their blood sugar control can reap some powerful benefits from adding a relatively small amount of physical activity into their routines.

“Exercise snacking” is similar to the idea of consuming small meals throughout the day, but involves breaking up exercise into small bouts throughout the day. This is helpful for those who have trouble getting the recommended amount of physical activity each day. The best part? Research has shown that this strategy works just as well or even better for blood sugar control than engaging in a single continuous bout of physical activity daily (2).

A study published in the journal Diabetologia tested the blood-sugar status of exercisers engaging in short, one-minute bouts of high-intensity exercise before meals, six times per day against an exercise group engaging in traditional continuous bouts of moderate-intensity physical activity for 30 minutes, once per day. The participants in the study were all beginning to show signs of insulin resistance, which is an early symptom in the development of type 2 diabetes—meaning their bodies were beginning to have trouble maintaining normal blood sugar levels (3).

The study found that those who completed just one minute of very high-intensity exercise before meals saw reduced blood sugar markers following their meals, and even more impressively, had lower blood sugar markers after 24 hours, when compared to the group that completed single 30-minute exercise sessions at a moderate intensity (2).

This isn’t the first time researchers have considered the benefits of breaking up exercises into shorter sessions. Another study found that 15-minute walks following meals was an effective strategy for quickly lowering blood sugar after meals in older individuals (4). Others in the fitness industry have speculated that shorter bouts of exercise spread throughout the day could be an effective way to encourage those who do not have an interest in traditional exercise routines.

Diabetes is a growing issue in the United States and around the world, but these studies highlight that simple lifestyle changes like adding some exercise into your routine can make all the difference. According to the 2017 National Diabetes Statistics Report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “an estimated 33.9% of U.S. adults aged 18 years or older (84.1 million people) had pre-diabetes in 2015” (5). And according to the American Diabetes Association, “the total direct and indirect estimated cost of diagnosed diabetes in the United States in 2012 was $245 billion” (6).

The development of pre-diabetes and diabetes is both costly and can lead to other more serious health complications. The good news is that adopting a more healthful lifestyle can help manage your risk. Healthy diet choices and increased physical activity can help to delay or even prevent progression from pre-diabetes to diabetes (7).  If something as simple as a few minutes of exercise spread throughout the day can help, it may be time for more people to give “exercise snacking” a try.

References:

  1. Morrato EH, Hill JO, Wyatt HR, Ghushchyan V, Sullivan PW. Physical activity in U.S. adults with diabetes and at risk for developing diabetes, 2003. Diabetes Care. 2007 Feb;30(2):203-9.
  2. Francois ME, Baldi JC, Manning PJ, Lucas SJ, Hawley JA, Williams MJ, Cotter JD. ‘Exercise snacks’ before meals: a novel strategy to improve glycaemic control in individuals with insulin resistance. Diabetologia. 2014 Jul;57(7):1437-45. doi: 10.1007/s00125-014-3244-6. Epub 2014 May 10.
  3. Prediabetes & Insulin Resistance. (2017, July 01). Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes/prediabetes-insulin-resistance
  4. Loretta DiPietro, Andrei Gribok, Michelle S. Stevens, Larry F. Hamm, William Rumpler. Three 15-min Bouts of Moderate Postmeal Walking Significantly Improves 24-h Glycemic Control in Older People at Risk for Impaired Glucose Tolerance. Diabetes Care Oct 2013, 36 (10) 3262-3268; DOI: 10.2337/dc13-0084
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2017. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services; 2017.
  6. American Diabetes Association. Economic costs of diabetes in the U.S. in 2012. Diabetes Care. 2013;36(4):1033–1046.
  7. Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group. Long-term effects of lifestyle intervention or metformin on diabetes development and microvascular complications over 15-year follow-up: The Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2015 Nov;3(11):866-75.

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