Exercise improves cardiac autonomic function in obesity and diabetes

Metabolism. 2013 May;62(5):609-21. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2012.09.005. Epub 2012 Oct 17.


Physical activity is a key element in the prevention and management of obesity and diabetes. Regular physical activity efficiently supports diet-induced weight loss, improves glycemic control, and can prevent or delay type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Furthermore, physical activity positively affects lipid profile, blood pressure, reduces the rate of cardiovascular events and associated mortality, and restores the quality of life in type 2 diabetes. However, recent studies have documented that a high percentage of the cardiovascular benefits of exercise cannot be attributed solely to enhanced cardiovascular risk factor modulation. Obesity in concert with diabetes is characterized by sympathetic overactivity and the progressive loss of cardiac parasympathetic influx. These are manifested via different pathogenetic mechanisms, including hyperinsulinemia, visceral obesity, subclinical inflammation and increased thrombosis. Cardiac autonomic neuropathy is an underestimated risk factor for the increased cardiovascular morbidity and mortality associated with obesity and diabetes. The same is true for the role of physical exercise in the restoration of the heart cardioprotective autonomic modulation in these individuals. This review addresses the interplay of cardiac autonomic function in obesity and diabetes, and focuses on the importance of exercise in improving cardiac autonomic dysfunction.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / physiopathology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / therapy
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Heart / innervation*
  • Heart / physiology
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Obesity / therapy