Healthy living

A few minutes of daily exercise could prevent diabetes

A minute of exercise a day could help prevent diabetes Cycle sprints improve insulin function

A few minutes of exercise daily could prevent diabetes, researchers claim.

Performing short cycle sprints three times a week could be enough to prevent and possibly treat Type 2 diabetes, according to a new study.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when blood sugar levels build up to dangerously high levels due to reduced insulin function. Around 2.6 million people in the UK currently have type 2 diabetes, which is often linked to being overweight and a sedentary lifestyle.

Regular exercise can help keep blood sugar levels low but some 66 per cent of the population do not get the recommended five 30-minute sessions of moderate exercise a week.

"Our muscles have sugar stores, called glycogen, for use during exercise. To restock these after exercise the muscle needs to take up sugar from the blood. In inactive people there is less need for the muscles to do this, which can lead to poor sensitivity to insulin, high blood sugar levels, and eventually type 2 diabetes," said Dr Niels Vollaard, who led the study.

“We already knew that very intense sprint training can improve insulin sensitivity but we wanted to see if the exercise sessions could be made easier and shorter,” he added.

The researchers asked volunteers were to perform two 20-second cycle sprints, three times a week.

The resistance on the exercise bikes could be rapidly increased so volunteers were able to briefly exercise at much higher intensities than they would otherwise be able to achieve. With an undemanding warm-up and cool-down the total time of each session was only 10 minutes.

After six weeks, the researchers saw a 28 per cent improvement in the volunteers' insulin function.

Dr Vollaard said: "We know of no quicker and easier way of getting the muscles to use glycogen than with the short sprints we used in our study. These sprints break down as much glycogen in 20 seconds as moderate endurance exercise would in an hour."

He continued: "This is completely new. No one has ever found a programme this easy and short to provide health benefits. At the moment it has only been done in lab conditions but it would be easy to create a bike that does this in a gym setting. It could even be done in the workplace."

The researchers also said that cycle sprints are not suitable for weight loss as the sprints are too short to burn many calories, but in the study, improved general fitness.

The study is published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology.

This article was published on Fri 9 December 2011

Image © Kzenon -

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