‘Exercise snack’ could improve health of people living with Type-2 diabetes

A new study is testing an idea called an “exercise snack” to help improve the overall health of people living with Type-2 diabetes, by lowering their blood sugar through small bursts of exercise.

Dr. Jonathan Little, the lead researcher of the study at the University of British Colombia (UBC), says exercise is good for people living with Type-2 diabetes, as it keeps the muscles active, even if it’s a little one.

“Type-2 diabetes is a condition where people’s blood sugar, blood glucose levels, are too high. So that’s one of the main reasons why exercise is so good for someone with Type-2 diabetes is that the muscles when they’re active, will suck up more glucose. Not the only reason. But the main reason,” said Dr. Little.

He says people living with the disease do not achieve enough exercise to get these benefits, as they find it hard to stick to it. Their research is made to address that, where people don’t have to plan to do exercise.

“So exercise snacks are these short little bursts of exercise, we define them as less than one minute of exercise that you do sprinkled throughout the day. So, you might do these while you’re in between meetings if you work in an office, or you might do them before you brush your teeth in the morning,” Little explained. “Or you might do them when you’re going for a coffee break or a bathroom break. So the concept is that you don’t have to really plan exercise and have clothes to change into and a gym membership or a treadmill or anything like that.”

What does an exercise snack look like?

Little says it could be like squats, lunges, jumping jacks, or things that can be done anywhere.

“It’s things like vigorously climbing the stairs. So, when you see a flight of stairs, you would climb that briskly, it could be brisk walking to get to your car, or to make it to a meeting that you’re late for, across the way,” Little added.

He says this is not “the magic bullet” to completely replace exercise, but it’s an easier and more attractive option to fit into the day of someone with Type-2 diabetes.

“But certainly the guidelines for people with type two diabetes are to do 150 minutes per week,” Little said. “One of the most effective things for someone with Type-2 diabetes is to go for a short walk after their meal. Because after a meal, if you eat some carbohydrates, your blood sugars are rising. And if you go for a walk, the muscles that you use during that walk will suck up some of the glucose and prevent that big spike. These exercise snacks are just you know, another potential avenue to explore, or to add on to that, not necessarily suggesting that it would replace that sort of traditional type of exercise.”

He also says the exercise snack helps people working long hours on their desks break the prolonged sitting time, which helps their metabolism.

“Whereas, if you take your break as an exercise snack, you may be able to get some fitness benefits while you also break up your prolonged sitting time,” Little said.

Little exercise helps ‘manage diabetes well’

Laura Syron lives with Type-2 diabetes — CEO and president of Diabetes Canada — and says the exercise snacks will give her hope and encourage her to do exercise and stay healthy, as she would be able to “manage diabetes well” without the burden that comes with trying to find time to go to the gym, and where she can balance between life and health.

“One of the things when you get diagnosed is, you know, you need to do more exercise,” Syron said. “The doctor, or the nurse, or working with a dietitian tells you, you should be trying to do 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a couple times a week, and that’s quite overwhelming.”

She says there are five consequences associated with getting diagnosed with diabetes, including heart attacks, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, and even amputation of certain parts of the body that might not be letting the blood circulation flow.


However, if the study works, she says the exercise would be practical and doable, and help her live a normal life without constantly worrying about these five consequences.

“I want to go traveling with my husband in retirement, I want to spend time with my kids,” Syron said.

She adds some Canadians can’t afford going to the gym, or seeing a nutritionist, especially amid the rising cost of living and the exercise snack idea helps with that.

“Canadians who live with diabetes from all walks of life could actually take more control of their health,” Syron said.

The study is still in the early stages and is supported by Diabetes Canada.

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