Gentle Exercise Reduces Risk of Diabetes

No need for high speed to get major health benefits from physical activity
January 20, 2020 Updated: February 12, 2020
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Daily exercise, even lower-intensity exercise, can cut the risk of diabetes, according to a study published in Endocrine Connections.

Not getting enough physical activity could lead to metabolic complications such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. After smoking, a lack of exercise is the second-most preventable cause of premature death.

Exercise May Affect Hormones

Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) is an appetite-inhibiting hormone that lowers blood sugar levels and stimulates insulin secretion. Previous studies have suggested that exercise may affect GLP-1 secretion, but most have been inconclusive. The effects of daily lower-intensity exercise have remained uncertain.

However, this new study shows how moderate-intensity activity is associated with beneficial levels of the GLP-1 hormone, which may lower the risk of diabetes. The findings suggest that even a lower intensity of regular daily physical activity—like the habit of a daily walk—could help to prevent metabolic diseases such as diabetes.

For the study, doctorate student Charlotte Janus and professor Signe Torekov from the University of Copenhagen, together with researchers from Steno Diabetes Center, investigated the association between normal daily physical activity and GLP-1 secretion.

They looked at an overweight population of 703 men and 623 women. The participants’ heart rates were monitored on a daily monitor to determine their activity intensity, ranging from sedentary to vigorous. GLP-1 levels were measured before and after drinking glucose to test how physical activity could affect the secretion of the hormone.

Researchers found that moderate-intensity exercise for just 30 minutes a day increased GLP-1 levels in men, but not in women who were on average active for only 20 minutes a day.

“Our study is encouraging as the results suggest that daily activity, even at a relatively low intensity and for a short amount of time, such as brisk walking, gardening, and playing with grandchildren, could improve appetite and blood glucose regulation,” said Janus.

Torekov added, “Greater GLP-1 hormone levels decrease both hunger sensation and blood sugar and may, therefore, decrease the risk of both obesity and type 2 diabetes.”

“The association between physical activity and GLP-1 secretion may only be seen in men due to physiological differences and generally lower activity levels for women in this study. It may also indicate that a certain minimum level of physical activity is required for there the positive effect on GLP-1 levels, however, more studies are required to confirm this.”

The findings of the study suggest that even low-intensity activity could help to reduce the risk of diabetes. People should focus on increasing daily activity to at least 30 minutes a day, which could include walking, swimming, or yoga. Many people find that low-intensity activity is much more achievable than high-intensity exercise, which can be time-consuming or too physically demanding.

“If you don’t have the time or ability to do high-intensity exercise, increasing your daily physical activity level may still affect GLP-1 production and have positive impacts on your health,” said Janus.

Mat Lecompte is a freelance health and wellness journalist. This article was first published on Bel Marra Health.