Previous studies have shown that structured exercise, as well as physical activity in general, is linked to lower blood glucose spikes in people with diabetes. One recent study showed that in people with type 1 diabetes, taking a greater number of steps each day was linked to less severe spikes in blood glucose after meals. Another study showed that in men with type 2 diabetes, following an afternoon exercise routine led to to better blood glucose control and less belly fat. Blood glucose control isn’t the only potential benefit from physical activity, of course — studies have shown that activity levels are linked to cardiovascular health in type 2 diabetes, a lower risk for dementia, and lower health care costs later in life.
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Now, the latest study shows that the blood glucose regulation benefits of greater physical activity aren’t limited to people with diabetes — suggesting that physical activity might help prevent people from developing elevated blood glucose and diabetes in the first place. The study participants were 85 adults who were followed for two weeks, during which they wore a step-counting device. They also had their blood glucose levels measured using a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) system, which let the researchers compare activity levels with blood glucose trends throughout the day.
Physical activity linked to lower blood glucose levels the following day
The researchers found that for every additional 1,000 steps participants took each day, they experienced an average reduction in their maximum glucose level of 0.36 mg/dl the following day. They also experienced an average reduction in their daily average glucose level of 0.09 mg/dl the following day. There was no apparent link between physical activity on a given day and maximum or average blood glucose level on that day — which suggests that physical activity was, in fact, responsible for the lower levels of these measures seen the next day.
Most participants in this study were on the younger side, with an average age of 40.1. They also didn’t tend to be overweight or obese, with an average body-mass index (BMI, a measure of body weight that takes height into account) of 23.8, which falls in the “normal” category. But 28 participants were overweight or obese, with a BMI of 25 or greater, while 57 participants had a body weight in the normal category. It’s not clear, of course, whether physical activity would have the same effect on blood glucose spikes — or potentially an even greater effect — in an older or more overweight population.
The researchers noted that according to the best estimates, about one in four adults aren’t meeting physical activity guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO). While it’s impossible to say for sure, it’s plausible — and past studies have shown — that wearing an activity tracking device may motivate people to move more, since it gives them an immediate form of reward when they meet their daily step goals.
“Our work may have important public health implications as elevated glucose excursion is a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases in populations with and without diabetes,” the researchers wrote. “Similar works should be replicated among other populations, in particular among people with diabetes treated with insulin,” so that insulin-delivery systems such as insulin pumps may be able to take physical activity into account.
Want to learn more about managing after-meal blood sugar levels? Read “Strike the Spike II,” “Dealing With After-Meal Blood Sugar Spikes? Don’t Skip Breakfast,” “Managing Your Blood Glucose Ups and Downs” and “How to Lower Blood Sugar? Take a 10-Minute Walk After Meals, Study Says.”