Effect of aerobic exercise intensity on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis of head-to-head randomized trials

Acta Diabetol. 2016 Oct;53(5):769-81. doi: 10.1007/s00592-016-0870-0. Epub 2016 Jun 2.


Aims: To conduct a meta-analysis of head-to-head trials comparing aerobic exercise training of different intensities on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes.

Methods: Databases, including MEDLINE and EMBASE, were searched up to January 2016. Randomized trials of at least 12 weeks in duration that compared two exercise interventions of different intensities were identified. Two reviewers independently extracted data from eligible trials. Using fixed effect model, weighted mean differences (WMD) between different exercise intensities were calculated for changes in glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c) and secondary outcomes, such as fasting glucose and fasting insulin.

Results: Eight studies with a total of 235 participants were eligible. The exercise interventions lasted from 12 weeks to 6 months. The prescribed exercise intensities varied among studies. Four studies utilized vigorous exercise intensities for short durations by performing interval training. Overall, higher-intensity exercise resulted in a greater reduction in HbA1c compared to lower-intensity exercise (WMD = -0.22 %; 95 % confidence interval [-0.38, -0.06]; or -2.4 mmol/mol [-4.15, -0.66], I (2) = 0). Adherence to exercise and proportion of dropouts did not differ within trials. No adverse events were reported in these small trials with selected inclusion criteria.

Conclusions: Although our meta-analysis had a limited sample size, increasing exercise intensity safely accentuated reductions in HbA1c in some people with type 2 diabetes. Different approaches have been used to increase exercise intensity (i.e., some used interval training, whereas others used higher-intensity continuous exercise). However, at this time, it is unclear which form, if any, leads to the most favorable results.

Keywords: HOMA of insulin resistance; HbA1c; Physical activity intensity; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / therapy*
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Blood Glucose