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“The efficacy of a high intensity exercise protocol…to substantially improve insulin action is remarkable. This novel time-efficient training paradigm can be used…in sedentary populations who would otherwise not adhere to time consuming traditional aerobic exercise regimes.” James A. Timmons, PhD, et al BMC Endocrine Disorders (January 28, 2009)

Short, Hard Intervals Improve Insulin Action

7.5 Minutes a Week Helps Ward off Diabetes

Once the exclusive province of elite athletes, interval training is becoming almost de rigueur for health researchers around the world. If intermittent short sprints were a drug, pharmaceutical companies would be spending millions to acquire patent rights. But intervals are free to anyone willing to invest a few minutes of sweat equity every week.

We’ve seen that intervals work for fitness and fat loss http://www.cbass.com/FATBURN.HTM , endurance capacity http://www.cbass.com/Sprintendurance.htm , brain function http://www.cbass.com/RebootBrain.htm , artery function, heart rehab and metabolic syndrome http://www.cbass.com/IntervalsEveryone.htm . Now we have a new study by researchers from Scotland and Sweden showing that short sprints help control blood sugar and lower the risk of developing adult onset diabetes. (The study was published January 28, 2009 in BMC Endocrine Disorders.)

Sixteen sedentary or recreationally active young men (and 9 controls) were tested for glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity before and after two weeks of supervised interval training totaling just 15 minutes of high intensity exercise. The training included 6 every-other-day sessions of 4 to 6 30-second all-out cycle sprints, with 4 minutes recovery between sprints. Including rest periods, the time commitment over two weeks was approximantly135 minutes, a little over 2 hours—far less than traditional endurance regimens.

Among other results, blood glucose level was significantly reduced (12%) after two weeks of interval training. The blood sugar response after drinking 75 grams of glucose (simple sugar) was substantially less after training than before; rather than spike after 60 minutes, as it did before training, blood sugar level remained essentially unchanged. Likewise, insulin response to oral glucose was also significantly reduced (37%) after two weeks of training, indicating that insulin sensitivity was substantially improved. In short, insulin did a better job clearing glucose from the bloodstream after interval training.

Another test showed that insulin sensitivity was improved by 23% after two weeks of training. 

Importantly, the improvement in glucose clearance from the bloodstream lasted for up to 10 days after the final exercise session.

The Muscle Factor

In the Discussion portion of their report, the researchers highlight two features of short duration high-intensity interval training (HIT), which set it apart from walking or moderate intensity aerobic training. Both distinguishing features involve muscle.

HIT works your muscles much more than steady-state moderate aerobic exercise. (For an explanation of how muscle fibers are activated, see “Forget Heavy, Think Effort” http://www.cbass.com/Carpinelli.htm )

“HIT has as least two novel features,” the researchers write. “[First], it involves the activation of a large muscle mass; secondly, this is associated with a very high glycogen breakdown-turnover.” (Glycogen is a form of carbohydrate (glucose) stored in muscles (and the liver); it is released as needed for energy.)

Why is that important?

“The combination of these two factors means that a greater proportion of muscle fibers will need to replenish their carbohydrate stores.”  

In other words, interval training causes the glucose in your blood to be converted to glycogen in your muscles. Shazam! Lower blood sugar.

Makes sense, doesn’t it.

Bottom line: Short, hard intervals do a better job than steady-state aerobic training keeping your blood sugar on an even keel and lowering your risk of developing adult onset diabetes. And they do it in a fraction of the time. What’s more, intervals are more challenging and fun. For most people, steady state aerobic exercise is boring.

If you are out of shape or have health problems, you should consult your doctor before embarking on an interval training program. In any event, start slowly and increase intensity gradually as your condition improves.

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