Exercise has been shown to have many positive benefits on various aspects of physical and mental health. However, there is much discussion on what type and how much is good for specific conditions. One of these discussions has centered around the effects of physical activity on metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Multiple research studies have found that there is a connection between exercise and how our body processes insulin and glucose. It turns out that there may be a twist on the old adage “work smarter, not harder” that being, “exercise harder, not longer”.
With the conveniences of the modern world and today’s fast paced lifestyles, most people have to set aside time for physical activity in their schedules, and many do not plan for enough. To help the public know just how much exercise they need, the US along with the World Health Organization (WHO) and others, have issued physical activity guidelines.
How much is enough? Guidelines recommend that each week, adults have at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity to maintain good health. It is generally accepted that with vigorous activity you can burn twice the calories in the same about of time. This suggests that the only added benefit of vigorous activity is that you are saving time. But what if you can reap even greater benefits?
A study published in the August 2012 International Journal of Epidemiology included over 1800 adults whose physical activity was measured for a week. Participants were asked to wear an accelerometer that tracked average physical activity intensity in 1-minute intervals.
Based on the information recorded on the accelerometers, researchers were able to average daily moderate physical activity (MPA), average vigorous physical activity (VPA), and then calculate their estimated metabolic equivalent (MET).
To put this into perspective, 250 MET reflects activity equivalent to half the guidelines, 500 MET is considered equivalent to the guidelines, 1000 MET would be double the guidelines, and so on.
Based on the MET, the participants were divided into 4 groups:
inactive (0–249 MET min/week)
somewhat active (250–499 MET min/week)
active (500–999 MET min/week)
very active (≥1000 MET min/week)
Looking at these categories, the researchers then analyzed the connection between their activity level and their metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a term that refers to a group of health factors that, when occurring together, result in higher risk for heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. These factors include high waist circumference, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, elevated blood pressure and elevated glucose.
Results revealed a marked difference in improvement based on the category of activity.
- Those in the “inactive” category, engaged in moderate activities had a decrease in metabolic syndrome of only 8.8%.
- Those in the “somewhat active” category experienced double that improvement.
- However, when as little as half of the activity was vigorous, metabolic syndrome decreased 26.2%.
- And among participants who engaged in VPA for most of all of their activity, researchers saw a 37.1% decrease in metabolic syndrome.
In short, those who had 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity a week were 2.4 times less likely to have metabolic syndrome. Researchers conclude that “contrary to what is implied by the physical activity guidelines, the cardiometabolic health benefits of 75 min/week of VPA appear to be greater than the benefits of 150 min/week of MPA. This suggests that adults should accumulate at least some VPA over the course of the week to attain optimal cardiometabolic health.”
How can you get vigorous physical activity? One approach to exercise, High-intensity Interval Training or HIT, takes people through a sequence of short bursts of intense training moves alternating with strength training and/or low-intensity moves. HIT has grown in popularity due to its ability to pack an effective workout punch in a short amount of time.
The findings of a 2009 study published in the BMC Endocrine Disorders journal monitored subjects who participated in 2 weeks of extremely low volume, high-intensity interval training (HIT). Researchers collected data on aerobic performance, glucose, and insulin. Oral glucose tolerance tests were performed before and after training.
Following 2 weeks of HIIT, the fasting plasma and glucose remained unchanged, however, insulin sensitivity was improved by 23%! The low-volume, high intensity training in this study resulted in improved insulin action that lasted at least 3 days.
“Insulin resistance” is the term used to designate when the body’s insulin fails to control blood glucose following a meal. The primary tissue responsible for the transition of glucose is the skeletal muscle.
Therefore, researchers deduct that it is “reasonable to assume” that the improvement seen in this study suggests improved muscle glucose uptake. This is where VPA may get its edge over MPA.
While walking or moderate aerobic activity tend to involve certain muscle groups, HIIT typically involves the activation of a large muscle mass which is linked to very high glycogen breakdown. Together, these 2 factors mean more muscle tissue will need to be replenished than after moderate intensity activity.
According to a national health survey, nearly 1 in 4 Americans experience metabolic syndrome. With research showing connections between exercise, metabolic syndrome and how our body processes insulin and glucose it is important to know that we can benefit through increased activity levels, even when our schedules limit our time for workouts.
Your doctor of chiropractic can help you determine what workout activities may be best for you and your personal health goals. To find a doctor of chiropractic near year, click here.
This article was posted by the Tennessee Chiropractic Association (TCA) as a public service. It is important to discuss your personal health status with your health care providers before making major changes in your dietary and exercise habits. For specific information concerning your health condition, consult your chiropractor. For more information, find articles and research summaries on tnchiro.com here.