We recently reported on animal research indicating that brief bursts of physical activity may help reverse hypoglycemia unawareness (loss of the ability to detect when blood sugar levels are low). Now, a small new study out of Australia suggests that short periods of exercise can also significantly lower blood pressure in people with Type 2 diabetes. Approximately 29 million people in the United States are living with the condition, and another 86 million have prediabetes and are at increased risk of developing Type 2.
People in industrialized countries such as the United States and Australia spend much of the day sitting at home, at work, and in the car, according to the study authors, and prolonged sitting has been found to raise the chance of experiencing cardiovascular conditions such as heart attack and stroke. High blood pressure (140/80 and above for those with diabetes), which is a risk factor for these conditions, affects more than 70% of people with Type 2 diabetes.
To determine whether breaking up bouts of sitting with brief bouts of activity has an effect on blood pressure levels, the researchers worked with 24 overweight or obese people with Type 2 diabetes and an average age of 62. About two-thirds of the participants were taking blood pressure medicines. The study was carried out across three separate days, in which the participants were assigned to either sit continuously for seven hours (rising only for bathroom breaks), walk on a treadmill at an average, very light pace of 2 miles per hour for three minutes every 30 minutes, or engage in three minutes of light resistance exercises (such as half-squats, calf raises, knee raises, or gluteal muscle squeezes) every 30 minutes.
The researchers found that the light walking resulted in a 10-point decrease in systolic pressure (the top number) and the resistance exercises resulted in a 12-point decrease compared to sitting continuously. Although the reasons for this drop in blood pressure aren’t clear, it may be related to decreased levels of norephinephrine (a type of stress hormone) in the exercising participants.
“It appears you don’t have to do very much. We saw some marked blood pressure reductions over trial days when people did the equivalent of walking to the water cooler or some simple body-weight movements on the spot,” said study coauthor Bronwyn Kingwell, PhD. “Light activity breaks are not meant to replace regular, purposeful exercise. But they may be a practical solution to cut down sitting time, especially if you’re at your desk all day.”
For more information, read the article “Brief bursts of activity lower blood pressure in Type 2 diabetics” or see the study’s abstract in the journal Circulation. And for more information on controlling your blood pressure, see “The Pressure Is On: Hypertension and Diabetes,” by Dr. Craig Hurwitz.
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Diane Fennell: Diane Fennell has been an editor at Diabetes Self-Management magazine since 2003. She is currently the Editorial Director. (Diane Fennell is not a medical professional.)
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