Stair walking for just a few minutes each day may have a beneficial effect on glucose and insulin levels, according to a new study published in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases.
Exercise — especially aerobic exercise, or “cardio” — has long been known to help improve insulin sensitivity in the body. This potential benefit applies most directly to people who have type 2 diabetes, which is characterized by insulin resistance, or reduced insulin sensitivity. But anyone who may be at risk for type 2 diabetes, especially people with prediabetes, could also benefit from improved insulin sensitivity. Previous studies have also shown that short, intense exercise sessions may improve insulin secretion by the pancreas in people with type 2 diabetes — an additional benefit that may work in tandem with improved insulin sensitivity to lower blood glucose levels. And when it comes to different levels of physical activity, doing intense exercises may not be the only way to improve your insulin sensitivity — even just sitting less throughout the day may have a beneficial effect.
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For the latest study, 30 participants — 18 men and 12 women — each completed four oral glucose tolerance tests (OGTTs) in a random order. This test measures the body’s blood glucose level in response to a standardized dose of glucose, taken by mouth. One test was given during an extended period of rest (no physical activity), and the other three were given after bouts of stair walking lasting 1, 3, or 10 minutes. At the time of each OGTT, blood samples were collected twice — first before doing any stair walking, and again 30 minutes later. The samples were used to measure both glucose and insulin levels. None of the participants had diabetes or took insulin, so insulin measurements reflected only the body’s own insulin production.
Stair walking linked to lower blood glucose levels
The researchers found that after doing stair walking for 10 minutes, participant saw their blood glucose level drop by an average of 23 mg/dl. After doing 3 minutes of stair walking, blood glucose dropped by an average of 15 mg/dl, and after doing 1 minute of stair walking, blood glucose dropped by an average of 6 mg/dl — with this last difference too small to be statistically significant, meaning it could have been due to chance. When the researchers calculate insulin sensitivity based on a measurement called the insulin sensitivity index, they found that it improved after 10 minutes of stair walking, but not after 1 or 3 minutes of stair walking.
This study measured blood glucose and insulin levels, and insulin sensitivity, at a given point in time — meaning it didn’t look at whether stair walking improved these values through the day, or how long any benefit lasted. It’s conceivable, though, that getting moderate physical activity throughout the day — by doing stair walking, or another activity — could have meaningfully improve blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity in people with or without diabetes.