Type 2 diabetes: How afternoon exercise can provide benefits

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Researchers say afternoon exercise may provide more substantial benefits for people with type 2 diabetes. Sound Maskot/Getty Images
  • Researchers report that people with type 2 diabetes may get the most benefit from exercising in the afternoon.
  • In a new study, researchers reported that participants who exercised throughout the day fared better in terms of blood glucose levels.
  • They said they\’re still not sure why afternoon exercise might be more beneficial, but it could be due to better sleep patterns and healthier eating habits.

Doctors have long touted the benefits of exercise to help people with type 2 diabetes manage chronic disease and reduce their risk of health complications

Now, a new study published in the journal Diabetes care suggests that what time of day those with type 2 diabetes exercise helps determine how much it benefits them.

In the study, researchers reported that exercising in the afternoon provided the most dramatic results in controlling blood glucose levels.

These are very exciting findings because we know that physical activity is beneficial, but what our study adds is a new understanding that the timing of activity can also matter, said Jingyi Qian, PhD, study co-author and professor of medicine at Harvard. Massachusetts Brigham and Women\’s Hospital Boston Medical Schools.

A team of researchers, including some from the Joslin Diabetes Center at Brigham and Harvard, analyzed one-year and four-year physical activity data among 2,400 people classified as overweight and diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Each of the participants wore a device that measured physical activity.

Participants were part of the Look AHEAD (Health Action in Diabetes) study, a multi-site randomized clinical investigation that began in 2001 and monitored the health of more than 5,000 individuals with type 2 diabetes classified as overweight or obese.

Researchers determined that those who engaged in moderate to vigorous physical activity in the afternoon had the greatest reduction in blood glucose levels after one year. Afternoon athletes were also the most likely to stop diabetes medications that monitor glucose.

Three years later, the researchers said, those who maintained a regular afternoon exercise regimen maintained a reduction in blood glucose.

It wasn\’t clear exactly why afternoon exercise brought the greatest reductions in blood sugar.

However, the research team suggested that sleep patterns, diet and metabolism may provide clues.

Qian said Medical News Today he hopes further research will measure those factors to determine a more direct link.

This, he said, could provide those with type 2 diabetes and doctors more evidence to prescribe exercise at specific times of the day to reduce blood glucose levels.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes. It occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin or does not produce enough insulin.

Dr. Mitchell Lazar, a physician at the University of Penn Health System in Pennsylvania, cautioned that the new study failed to demonstrate a concrete cause-and-effect relationship between the time of day a person with type 2 diabetes you exercise and reductions in glucose, or blood sugar, levels.

It\’s premature for doctors to bank it and prescribe afternoon exercises because while the study shows some correlation, it doesn\’t prove cause and effect or account for other confounding factors, he said. Medical News Today.

Other studies have established links between when people with type 2 diabetes exercise and health risks.

A 2021 study, for example, concluded that morning workouts may increase the risk of heart attack in men with type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when blood sugar levels rise due to problems with the way the body uses or makes insulin. Symptoms may include frequent urination, increased thirst, and blurred vision.

It can appear at any age, but is more likely to occur after age 45. More than 37 million people in the United States are estimated to have diabetes, mostly type 2.

Insulin is a hormone that regulates the movement of blood glucose, or sugar, into cells, which use it for energy.

When sugar can\’t enter cells, too much glucose builds up in the blood and the body can\’t use it for energy. This can lead to flu-like fatigue, urinary tract infections, numbness and tingling in the hands, arms, legs and feet due to circulation and nerve damage.

If blood sugar goes too high or low, it can quickly lead to medical emergencies, including seizures and loss of consciousness.

Keeping blood sugar within target levels can prevent serious long-term complications, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, nerve damage, eye damage and vision loss, and kidney disease.

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