Just a few minutes of exercise can have a big effect on the action of insulin that keeps our glucose levels in balance. The trick is to go all out.
While we have known for years that aerobic exercise like walking improves the health of our hearts and helps prevent or control diabetes, it can take a lot of time. Until now, however, we didn't know if quick bursts of exercise would help.
Recent research now shows that it does. Scientists in Scotland reported their findings in BioMed Central Endocrine Disorders. Just 15 minutes of high-intensity interval training in a two-week period had a "remarkable" effect on the insulin action of the sedentary young men in the study, the researchers wrote.
In this study a group of 16 men who were relatively out of shape but otherwise healthy rode an exercise bike four times daily in 30-second spurts two days a week. After two weeks they had a 23 percent improvement in how effectively their body used insulin to clear glucose from their blood stream.
All of us have enough time for this. As soon as a good friend of mine who leads a busy life learned about this research, she started doing 30-second sprints.
"I just sprint up the gentle slope west of my house for about two blocks," she told me. "Then, I walk back and I'm done. Can't beat how efficient it is time-wise. I really like the fact that it's over so fast that I don't get at all sweaty, so I can change out of my running duds into my work duds without having to clean up. Saves laundry too!"
Exercise is one of the few tools that we have to quickly bring down our blood glucose levels. The only other one that will work in the short term is to inject insulin. In my first book, What Makes My Blood Glucose Go Up...and Down, which I wrote with Dr. Jennie Brand-Miller and Kaye Foster-Powell, we found plenty of ways to spike our levels, but only these two ways to control them quickly.
My late wife took insulin to control her type 2 diabetes. Sometimes her blood glucose meter showed that her level was above 200 mg/dl. We discovered, however, that a brisk 10-minute walk worked much quicker than insulin to bring her numbers down to a satisfactory range.
The new research shows that even shorter but regular sprints would work even better. The secret is to go just as fast as you can for a few seconds each time.