Exercise Does the Heart Good, Especially in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes

HIGH intensity intermittent exercise training has been shown to reverse heart abnormalities, improve heart structure, and benefit diabetes control in patients with Type 2 diabetes in a recent study from Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.

Despite the well-documented benefits of a physically active lifestyle on diabetes control, the direct effects of exercise on the heart in diabetes patients remain unknown. Short periods of more intense physical activity increase the heart rate more than longer periods at a moderate intensity. The study team tested the effect of repeated short (up to 90 seconds) periods of intense cycling, called high intensity intermittent exercise, on diabetes control and the heart.

The study included 23 people with Type 2 diabetes who were randomised to 12 weeks of high intensity intermittent exercise (n=12; aged 45–70 years, 8 men) or who continued their standard care (n=11; aged 46–71 years, 10 men). Cardiac structure and function were measured using advanced magnetic resonance imaging techniques. Diabetes control was assessed by a standard oral glucose tolerance test.

The team discovered that high intensity intermittent exercise significantly improved cardiac structure and function. The exercise particularly benefited the ventricle, recognised to be altered by Type 2 diabetes, which was proved to become stronger and work more efficiently. There was also a moderate, but significant improvement in diabetes control.

The authors said: “This study demonstrates, for the first time, that exercise can begin to reverse some of the early cardiac changes that are commonly found in people with Type 2 diabetes. Interestingly, the data also suggest that this type of high intensity intermittent exercise benefits both the heart and diabetes control, but the benefits appear to be greatest in the heart. The strong positive effect of exercise on the heart is, although completely logical, a message that needs to be communicated to people with Type 2 diabetes more clearly.”

They concluded: “The data reinforce how important a physically active lifestyle is for people with Type 2 diabetes. Our findings also suggest that exercise does not have to be 30 minutes of continuous exercise – repeated short bouts of higher intensity exercise give strong benefits to the heart. Getting more physically active is, quite literally, at the heart of good diabetes control.”

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