Low-intensity exercise is effective in diabetes care

Low-intensity activity is as effective as strenuous exercise at improving diabetes control, a study suggests.

Dr Colin Kenny
Dr Colin Kenny

Researchers compared the effect on 37 people with diabetes of two exercise programmes. Participants undertook either 55 minutes of low-intensity exercise (at 50 per cent of maximum effort) or 45 minutes of high-intensity exercise (at 75 per cent of maximum effort).

Activities included walking, cycling and cross-training and the regimes were matched so that both groups burnt the same number of calories. The exercises were performed three times a week for six months.

Both programmes cut participants' weight, HbA1c and cholesterol levels. Improvements in the two groups were equal. 'A less intense continuous endurance-type exercise regimen can be equally effective when longer duration of exercise compensates for the lower exercise intensity,' the researchers said.

Patients must stick to exercise plans to boost glycaemic control, so lower-intensity regimes could help minimise drop-out rates, they suggested.

Dr Roger Gadsby, associate clinical professor at Warwick Medical School and a GP in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, stressed that exercise is a vital part of diabetes care.

'Some people think exercise is what is done in a gym, and so information that low-intensity exercise is as effective as high-intensity exercise is good news,' he said. 'It enables us to encourage all people with diabetes to consider regular low-intensity exercise as an integral part of their diabetes care.'

County Down GP Dr Colin Kenny, former chairman of the Primary Care Diabetes Society, said that although diet and exercise are key to type-2 diabetes treatment, dietary interventions may have only a modest effect on glycaemic control. 'Adding exercise to diet could create a more potent improvement,' he said.

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Diabetologia 2009;52:1,789-97

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