High-intensity Exercise Improves Blood Sugar Control in Type 2 Diabetes


How can less exercise yield better blood sugar and decrease risk of heart disease in diabetes patients? A new study has answers. 


A high-intensity exercise program can lead to improved control of blood sugar levels and decreased risk of heart disease in patients with type 2 diabetes (T2DM), according to a new study.

Exercise is a primary focus for managing diabetes since it helps improve the body’s ability to control blood sugar by sensitizing the body to insulin production. However, adherence to exercise advice is low among T2DM patients, who are often overweight or obese and cite a lack of time as one of the barriers to regular exercise.

A new study shows that high-intensity exercise, such as a 6-week CrossFit™ program, ameliorates insulin resistance and cardiometabolic risk factors in T2DM. “The increase in insulin sensitivity addresses a key defect in T2DM and is consistent with improvements observed after more traditional aerobic exercise programs in overweight/obese adults with T2DM,” stated researchers led by senior author John P. Kirwan, PhD, Professor of Human Bioenergetics at Ball State University in Cleveland, Ohio.

The researchers published their results on May 15, 2018 in Experimental Physiology.

The improvements appear to be similar to the sort of change expected from more traditional exercise interventions, but the regimen takes considerably less time than current health guidelines recommend. CrossFit™ appears to offer a time-effective exercise approach for people with T2DM who struggle to maintain daily exercise, Kirwan said.

CrossFit™ is a novel fitness paradigm that integrates simultaneous aerobic and resistance training in sets of constantly varied movements, based on real‐world situational exercises, performed at high intensity in workouts that range from about 8 to 20 minutes per session. The researchers recruited 13 overweight/obese adults (5 males, 8 females) with T2DM to participate in a 6-week supervised exercise program. The participants, average aged 53 years with an average BMI of 34.5 kg m2, performed the program 3 days a week. An oral glucose tolerance test was used to derive measures of insulin sensitivity.

The post-exercise, intervention test results show significant improvements in insulin sensitivity and heart disease risk factors. The CrossFit™ program significantly reduced fat mass, diastolic blood pressure, blood lipids (triglyceride and very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol), and metabolic syndrome score. In addition, increased basal fat oxidation increased as did adiponectin. Importantly, the exercise program also increased insulin sensitivity. Increases in adiponectin and fat oxidation, the authors stated, correlated with the change in insulin sensitivity.

Virtually all (>95%) of the patients were compliant with the exercise program and no injuries or adverse events were reported.

The researchers noted the study population was small and the duration of the exercise intervention was short. Also, the patients were relatively young, and therefore they caution against applying the results to more elderly patients with T2DM. However, the results pave the way for larger studies to assess the efficacy, feasibility, and durability of high-intensity exercise to help moderate insulin resistance.

The exercise program, “provides promise to those who may be pessimistic about the possibilities of these types of interventions,” said Kirwan.



Kirwan JP, Fealy CE, Nieuwoudt S, et al. Functional high intensity exercise training ameliorates insulin resistance and cardiometabolic risk factors in type 2 diabetes. Exp Physiol. 2018. 

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