When most of us imagine aerobic exercise, we probably think of going out for a jog, or a session on the treadmill, biking, or an exercise class, but recent research is pointing towards a new, maybe better way to practice aerobic exercise: exercise “snacking”.
Exercise snacking does not mean eating while we exercise. The concept of exercise snacking is similar to what many people have discovered about how to keep their weight controlled; that it, eating multiple smaller meals throughout the day.
Exercise snacking means splitting your exercise sessions into several smaller periods of more intense exercise rather than one session of more moderate exercise. A study published in the May 2014 medical journal Diabetologia showed that 3 shorter sessions of exercise, prior to each meal, was significantly better for controlling blood sugar levels throughout the day than one longer period of exercise.
An important function of aerobic activity is to help keep our blood sugar levels relatively low throughout the day. Normally after we eat, our blood sugar levels rise, but then our sugar levels fall as the sugar is pushed into our muscles (a function of our hormone insulin), to be used as fuel. If our sugar levels stay high for too long (as in diabetes), we build up visceral fat deep in our abdomen which leads to long term damage to our blood vessels, heart, kidneys, skin, and other organs including the brain.
This is why aerobic type exercise is important to help avoid diabetes as we get older. The Diabetologia study studied 9 adults who were pre-diabetic, that is, at high risk of developing the disease. The New Zealand researchers wanted to see if 3 sessions of 12 minutes of exercise was better than one 30-minute session. They found the 3 sessions was far superior for blood sugar control.
But the 3 sessions, which they completed 30 minutes before the start of each meal, were not just walks on the treadmill. The exercise routine was to walk on a treadmill as fast as they could manage for one minute, followed by one minute of slower walking, and this sequence was repeated six times for a total workout of 12 minutes.
Another variation was that instead of the one minute of slow walking on the treadmill, the participants performed upper-body resistance training using stretchy bands. Either way— using the bands or one minute of slower walking— gave good results. The people performing these routines had healthier blood sugar levels throughout the entire day and night, and thus less likely to develop diabetes.
An earlier study, published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise in 2012, performed a similar comparison with 3 periods of more intense exercise vs. one 30-minute period, but looked at blood pressure control in people predisposed to developing high blood pressure. Again, the research showed that 3 shorter sessions were superior to one longer one.
The sort of exercise used in these research studies involved bursts of exercise that significantly raises your heart rate, and leaves you panting or sweaty for the one minute periods, or about 9 on a scale of 1 to 10 for your particular body. You should check with your doctor if you want to start a program like this, but if OK for you, you don’t need a treadmill.
Some people could reach this level of exercise by just walking fast, or climbing stairs, or even jogging in place. Make sure after the minute of this high intensity exercise, you slow down for the periods of lesser exercise. This just might be the key for you to not only keeping your blood sugar under control, but also your weight, and might even fit better into your daily schedule.
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