15 April 2016

Michael Woodhead

Overweight people with type 2 diabetes should have regular active breaks from sitting to improve their risk of heart and metabolic disease, Australian research shows.

Doing 3 minutes of walking or light exercise every 30 minutes results in significant improvements in postprandial (after meals) blood glucose, insulin and triglyceride levels, according to a study by researchers from Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne.

The researchers tested the effect of regular interruptions to sitting time with 3-minute breaks of light walking or mild exercises, such as half-squats, calf raises, gluteal contractions and knee raises.

When adopted by 24 sedentary overweight men and women with type 2 diabetes for 8-hour periods over 3 days, the activity breaks resulted in an average 40% reduction in glucose levels after meals and a 36% reduction in insulin  levels after meals, compared with uninterrupted sitting.

There were also trends towards improvement in the level of triglycerides, the main form of fats stored in the body. High levels of triglycerides can increase the risk of heart disease.

The improvements in these markers of heart and metabolic disease were comparable to those seen for people with diabetes who did one 45-minute bout of moderate activity every day, the researchers noted.

The study authors said their findings highlighted a simple and achievable intervention to help improve the health of sedentary overweight patients with type 2 diabetes.

“With the ubiquity of sedentary behaviours and the low adherence to structured exercises, these 2 approaches — light-intensity walking or simple resistance activities — are practical strategies that may contribute towards reducing the risk of diabetic and cardiovascular complications,” said lead author Dr Paddy Dempsey (PhD).

“We know that regularly engaging in structured, medium-to-high intensity exercise can be hard and is simply not that achievable for some people.

“But the good news is that this study indicates that short and frequent bouts of low-intensity physical activity can deliver significant health benefits, and we hope that this provides a realistic and low-cost option for patients with type 2 diabetes.”

The researchers have called on healthcare professionals to provide patients with a ‘prescription’ message of ‘sitting less and moving more’.

Baker IDI has developed a free smartphone app called Rise & Recharge that aims to help people change their sitting habits.

Last Reviewed: 15/04/2016

Australian Doctor


Benefits for Type 2 Diabetes of Interrupting Prolonged Sitting With Brief Bouts of Light Walking or Simple Resistance Activities. Diabetes Care 2016; online.