The impact of brief high-intensity exercise on blood glucose levels

Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2013;6:113-22. doi: 10.2147/DMSO.S29222. Epub 2013 Feb 27.

Abstract

Background: Moderate-intensity exercise improves blood glucose (BG), but most people fail to achieve the required exercise volume. High-intensity exercise (HIE) protocols vary. Maximal cycle ergometer sprint interval training typically requires only 2.5 minutes of HIE and a total training time commitment (including rest and warm up) of 25 minutes per session. The effect of brief high-intensity exercise on blood glucose levels of people with and without diabetes is reviewed.

Methods: HIE (≥80% maximal oxygen uptake, VO2max) studies with ≤15 minutes HIE per session were reviewed.

Results: Six studies of nondiabetics (51 males, 14 females) requiring 7.5 to 20 minutes/week of HIE are reviewed. Two weeks of sprint interval training increased insulin sensitivity up to 3 days postintervention. Twelve weeks near maximal interval running (total exercise time 40 minutes/week) improved BG to a similar extent as running at 65% VO2max for 150 minutes/week. Eight studies of diabetics (41 type 1 and 22 type 2 subjects) were reviewed. Six were of a single exercise session with 44 seconds to 13 minutes of HIE, and the others were 2 and 7 weeks duration with 20 and 2 minutes/week HIE, respectively. With type 1 and 2 diabetes, BG was generally higher during and up to 2 hours after HIE compared to controls. With type 1 diabetics, BG decreased from midnight to 6 AM following HIE the previous morning. With type 2 diabetes, a single session improved postprandial BG for 24 hours, while a 2-week program reduced the average BG by 13% at 48 to 72 hours after exercise and also increased GLUT4 by 369%.

Conclusion: Very brief HIE improves BG 1 to 3 days postexercise in both diabetics and non-diabetics. HIE is unlikely to cause hypoglycemia during and immediately after exercise. Larger and longer randomized studies are needed to determine the safety, acceptability, long-term efficacy, and optimal exercise intensity and duration.

Keywords: diabetes; glucose; high-intensity interval training; sprint interval training.