For people with type 2 diabetes, better blood sugar control may be as easy as getting up off the couch and standing every so often, or taking a leisurely walk, a new study shows.
Dutch researchers noted that “moderate to vigorous” exercise is often recommended for people with diabetes — but most patients don’t comply with that advice.
This small new study suggests that even sitting a bit less might be of real benefit.
One diabetes expert in the United States agreed with that advice.
“For years, I would suggest an exercise regimen to my patients that I knew was doomed to failure,” said Dr. Robert Courgi, an endocrinologist at Northwell Health’s Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, N.Y.
However, “by tweaking the message a bit, the odds of success increase significantly,” he said. “Ultimately, any activity helps lower glucose [blood sugar]. The message of ‘sitting less’ will have a higher success rate than exercise regimens of the past.”
Current physical activity guidelines call for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a week to help prevent type 2 diabetes. But the study authors pointed out that nine out of 10 people fail to meet this guideline.
The new study was led by Bernard Duvivier of the department of human biology and movement science at Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands. His team wanted to see if a program to reduce sitting time — by encouraging patients to simply stand and do light-intensity walking — could offer an alternative to a standard exercise regimen.
The study included 19 adults, average age 63, with type 2 diabetes who did three programs, each lasting four days. In the first program, the participants sat for 14 hours a day and did only one hour a day of walking and one hour a day of standing.
In the second program (the “sit less” program), the participants did a total of two hours a day of walking and three hours a day of standing by breaking up their sitting time every 30 minutes.
In the third program (exercise), the participants replaced an hour a day of sitting time with indoor cycling.
The sit less and exercise programs were designed to burn similar amounts of energy, the researchers said.
Significant improvements in blood sugar control occurred when the patients did the sit less program or the exercise program, but the improvements were generally stronger during the sit less phase, according to the study.
Courgi said the new trial has helped him “rethink the way I treat diabetes with exercise.”
He said that, although it would be nice to see the results replicated in a larger trial, the study findings remain “very interesting.”
The study was published Nov. 30 in the journal Diabetologia.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on diabetes and blood sugar levels.