How Short High Intensity Workouts Prevent Diabetes
Diabetes is a serious health concern in all Westernized countries, and it is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation. Exercise has been proven to help prevent the onset of diabetes, however, recommendations to increase exercise tend to fall on deaf ears as most people in developed countries cite lack of time as the reason why they don’t exercise. Short, high intensity workouts appear to have a significant effect in reducing the onset of diabetes and may be one of the best tools in your arsenal, along with proper diet to help reduce your risk of developing this disease. Diabetes is unfortunately considered one of the ubiquitous aspects of getting older as almost 10% of American adults today are living with diabetes, and what is more disturbing is that some estimates show that as many as 79 million Americans are prediabetic. A condition defined as having blood glucose levels that are above normal but below the clinically defined threshold of diabetes. Prediabetes is considered an at-risk state, with high chances of developing diabetes. That’s a little less than a quarter of the entire US population. [1,2] Long term, large scale studies have shown that being prediabetic can cause long term damage to the heart and circulatory system and increase your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease even though there isn’t a full diagnosis of diabetes.[6, 7] There are often no physical symptoms to being prediabetic and everyone should be tested on a regular basis, even children as the incidence of childhood diabetes is sadly rising as well. In this article we will look at how short high intensity training protocols can help reduce the incidence of prediabetes and help more people decrease their risk with time commitments of no more than ten to fifteen minutes three times a week. Do be sure to forward this article to anyone you think might find it to be of use.
Understanding Type II Diabetes
Type II diabetes is characterized by the inability to produce insulin and often begins with a prediabetic state whereas fat, liver and muscle cells become less sensitive to the effects of insulin. This decrease in sensitivity is called insulin resistance and what is most troubling, is that it is completely avoidable. Under normal circumstances, when you eat a meal, blood glucose levels increase. Glucose is a necessary fuel for everything from brain to muscle activity and your pancreas will secrete the hormone insulin, which directs fat, muscle and liver cells to pull glucose out of the bloodstream. This glucose is then either burned of as fuel or stored for later use as glycogen or as fat. Problems occur when these cells stop responding as they should to direct glucose out of the blood stream leading to prolonged elevated blood sugar levels. As a result, blood glucose remains high and will keep rising if you continue to eat more. The continued high blood glucose levels make your pancreas secrete more insulin as it tries to reduce it. If this continues for too long, insulin resistance in uptake cells increase and the cells of your pancreas cease making insulin as the constant secretion kills them over time. With your pancreas unable to make insulin, blood sugar levels stay high and our bodies are not designed to have high levels of sugar in our blood. High blood sugar leads to kidney failure, heart disease, brain damage, loss of sensation in the hands and feet and other terrible complications and diabetics need injected insulin to regulate their blood sugar.
Why Current Exercise Recommendations for Diabetes Prevention Are Unrealistic
As horrible as diabetes might be, in the early stages of insulin resistance (prediabetes), studies show that you can stop and even reverse the damage done through proper diet and exercise. Our ‘Western Style Diet’ has been implicated as the central cause of our increased rates of diabetes in addition to sedentary lifestyles and obesity. Modern marketing makes it difficult for most people to know what foods they need to avoid and so even those who do their best to “eat healthy” can still be prediabetic. Eating a diet of unprocessed or minimally processed foods is an important part of the fight against diabetes, (and will be covered in future articles) but equally important is the need to integrate a regular routine of vigorous exercise and physical activity. The problem is that given the demands of modern living most adults today report not having enough time as being the primary reason why they don’t engage in regular exercise. The U.S. Department of Health recommendations call for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity or a combination of both spread throughout your week. In addition, they recommend moderate to high intensity muscle strengthening activity, such as weight training at least twice a week, with more benefits from being active at least 5 hours a week.
Most people simply cannot realistically commit to that much exercise on an ongoing basis and one of the interesting aspects of exercise is that researchers are only now understanding the minimum dose requirements. For example, we know that an hour of exercise yields certain benefits, but are those benefits coming from the full hour of working out, or is it that after 10-15 minutes of exercise you receive all the benefits with no additional advantages to training longer? What we know now is that infrequent bouts of brief high intensity training, lasting only 10-15 minutes in duration have been shown to have a positive effect in improving insulin action and are an invaluable resource for those with limited time to exercise with a predisposition towards diabetes and obesity. Over the past twenty seven years, I have had over a dozen men and women who were prediabetic see a complete reversal of the condition following my system of high intensity weight training for ten minutes, three times a week and with no other form of exercise whatsoever. That’s a total of half hour a week and it stands in stark contrast to the five-hour recommendations, but it has stood the test of time not only for reducing the incidence of developing diabetes, but also for weight loss as well.
High Intensity Training As A Preventative Factor Against Pre-Diabetes
High intensity training is one of the easiest and most efficient ways to prevent and reduce the risks associated with higher blood fasting levels. A recent study found that extremely short duration, high intensity training significantly improves insulin action in young healthy males. Brief high intensity workouts have also been shown to improve cardiovascular health and aerobic function, but it was previously unknown whether high intensity training could improve insulin action and glycemic control. However, an important study published in BMC Endocrine Disorders shows that brief high intensity workouts may have a pivotal role as a time saving exercise protocol for preventing diabetes. For the study, 16 young men in their early twenties underwent a regime of high intensity workouts lasting for 15 minutes each session for two weeks using stationary bicycles. Aerobic performance assessment, as well as an oral glucose tolerance test to determine insulin response were administered both before and after the training sessions. At the end of the two weeks of high intensity training, researchers observed a significant increase in insulin action, as well as a sizeable increase in aerobic performance. Researchers concluded that “the efficacy of a high intensity exercise protocol, involving only ~250 kcal of work each week, to substantially improve insulin action in young sedentary subjects is remarkable…This novel time-efficient training paradigm can be used as a strategy to reduce metabolic risk factors in young and middle aged sedentary populations who otherwise would not adhere to time consuming traditional aerobic exercise regimes.”
The Importance Of Exercise Intensity & Not Duration For Improving Insulin Sensitivity
Admittedly it was a limited study, but research conducted at Arizona State University and Texas University not only confirm increases in insulin action as a result of short high intensity resistance training, but highlight two very important points:
- Higher intensity multiple set training protocols yielded the greatest treatment effect in improving both fasting glucose and insulin 
- High volume resistance training is not a requirement for improved insulin sensitivity as a result of exercise as individuals performing high intensity low volume exercise have similar improvements in insulin sensitivity as those engaged in higher volume training programs. 
In essence, you don’t need to train for prolonged periods of time to decrease your risk of being prediabetic and we should note that short intense workouts not only improve insulin action but increases muscle mass, endurance, aerobic capacity and decreases body fat better than aerobic exercise and conventional high volume training programs.[12,13,14,15,16,17,18] High intensity training protocols have also been shown to increase bone density, improve cardiovascular health and significantly reduce both the incidence and severity of depression.[19,20,21] Since prediabetes can be sometimes difficult to identify without clinical testing, as everyone with it does not always display symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, difficulty seeing, slow healing of as well as tingling or loss of sensation in the extremities. As such, given its widespread nature, fasting plasma glucose screening is important for everyone over the age of 30 and might be a good idea for younger men and women as well. Especially those who are at risk due to lifestyle and or a high incidence of family history with diabetes. The good news is that only a few minutes of hard training can help reverse it and researchers hope that the high intensity, low volume approach is promoted more as a practical way to exercise in modern times in conjunction with proper diet and maintaining a healthy body weight.
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Featured everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to CBS News, Kevin Richardson’s Naturally Intense High Intensity Training have helped hundreds lose weight and transform their bodies with his 10 Minute Workouts. One of the top natural bodybuilders of his time, Kevin is also the international fitness consultant for UNICEF and one of the top personal trainers in New York City.
References for how high intensity training prevents diabetes:
- Power of Prevention, American College of Endocrinology. Vol. 1, issue 1, January 2009. http://www.powerofprevention.com/POP_magazine_Jan2009_final.pdf/
- Jellinger, Paul S. “What You Need to Know about Prediabetes.” Power of Prevention, American College of Endocrinology. Vol. 1, issue 2, May 2009
- Wild S, Roglic G, Green A, Sicree R, King H (May 2004). “Global prevalence of diabetes: estimates for 2000 and projections for 2030”. Diabetes Care
- Gilba MJ. High-intensity Interval Training: A Time-efficient Strategy for Health Promotion. Current Sports Medicine Reports 2007
- Babraj JA, Vollaard BJ, Keast C, Guppy FM, Cottrell G, Timmons JA. Extremely short duration high intensity interval training substantially improves insulin action in young healthy males- BMC Endocr Disord. 2009
- Fontbonne A, Charles MA, Thibult N, Richard JL, Claude JR, Warnet JM, Rosselin GE, Eschwège E. Hyperinsulinaemia as a predictor of coronary heart disease mortality in a healthy population: the Paris Prospective Study, 15-year follow-up. Diabetologia. 1991
- Barr EL, Zimmet PZ, Welborn TA, et al. (2007). “Risk of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality in individuals with diabetes mellitus, impaired fasting glucose, and impaired glucose tolerance: the Australian Diabetes, Obesity, and Lifestyle Study
- A. Witczak1 and M. Sturek. Exercise prevents diabetes-induced impairment in superficial buffer barrier in porcine coronary smooth muscle. Journal of applied Physiology
- Pedersen BK, Saltin B: Evidence for prescribing exercise as therapy in chronic disease. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2006
- Black LE, Swan PD, Alvar BA. Effects of intensity and volume on insulin sensitivity during acute bouts of resistance training. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Apr;24(4):1109-16.
- Reed ME, Ben-Ezra V, Biggerstaff KD, Nichols DL. The Effects of Two Bouts of High- and Low-Volume Resistance Exercise on Glucose Tolerance in Normoglycemic Women. J Strength Cond Res. 2011 Dec 8.
- Hawley JA, Specificity of training adaptation: time for a rethink? Physiol. 2008
- Tremblay, A. et al. Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism. Physical Activities Sciences Laboratory, Laval University, Quebec, Canada Metabolism.1994; 43(7): 814-818.
- Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki M, Hirai Y, Ogita F, Miyachi M, Yamamoto K.-Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1996 Oct;28(10):1327-30.Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max.
- Burgomaster KA, Howarth KR, Phillips SM, Rakobowchuk M, MacDonald MJ, McGee SL, Gibala M. Similar metabolic adaptations during exercise after low volume sprint interval and traditional endurance training in humans. J Physiol 586: 151-160, 2008
- Bahr R (1992). “Excess postexercise oxygen consumption–magnitude, mechanisms and practical implications”. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica. Supplementum 605
- Bahr R, Høstmark AT, Newsholme EA, Grønnerød O, Sejersted OM (September 1991). “Effect of exercise on recovery changes in plasma levels of FFA, glycerol, glucose and catecholamines”. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica 143
- Bielinski R, Schutz Y, Jéquier E (July 1985). “Energy metabolism during the postexercise recovery in man”. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 42
- High-intensity resistance training and postmenopausal bone loss: a meta-analysis.Martyn-St James M, Carroll S. Osteoporos Int. 2006
- Doyne EJ, Ossip-Klein DJ, Bowman ED, Osborn KM, McDougall-Wilson IB, Neimeyer IB. Running Versus Weight Lifting in the Treatment of Depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
- Martinsen EW, Hoffart A, Solberg O. Comparing aerobic and non aerobic forms of exercise in the treatment of clinical depression: a randomized trial. Comprehensive Psychiatry
- Singh NA, Stavrinos TM, Scarbeck Y, Galambos G, Liber C, Singh MA. A randomized controlled trial of high versus low intensity weight training versus general practitioner care for clinical depression in older adults. Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences
- Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.