Doing small spurts of exercise throughout the day provide numerous benefits.
Frequent, bite-sized bouts of activity led to improvements in blood sugar levels for Individuals with type 1 diabetes (T1D), according to new research presented at the Diabetes UK Professional Conference 2023, held April 26 to 28 in Liverpool.1
Sitting for long periods is known to be harmful to health, increasing the risk of conditions such as heart disease and affecting how the body responds to insulin, Diabetes UK said in a news release.2 Previous research has shown that breaking up periods of sitting with short, frequent walks can help people with type 2 diabetes reduce their blood sugar levels and risk of complications.
Matthew Campbell, principal investigator in cardiovascular and metabolic medicine at the University of Sunderland in the United Kingdom, investigated—for the first time—the impact of breaking up sedentary time on blood sugar levels in people with T1D.
“These results provide the first piece of evidence that simply breaking up prolonged periods of time sitting with light intensity activity can increase the amount of time spent with blood sugar levels in the target ranges,” Campbell said. “Importantly, this strategy does not seem to increase the risk of potentially dangerous blood glucose lows which are a common occurrence with more traditional types of physical activity and exercise.”
Additionally, the team’s preliminary analyses show that breaking up prolonged sitting time with light activity breaks may improve blood vessel health and reduce the risk of diabetes related complications, according to Campbell.
Thirty-two participants completed two 7-hour sitting sessions over a 2-week period. During one session, participants remained seated for the full 7 hours. During the other session, they broke up their sitting time with 3-minute bouts of light intensity walking every 30 minutes.
Participants wore a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to track their blood sugar levels for a 48-hour period during and after each sitting session. They were given a standardized breakfast and lunch, and were asked to stick to the same diet, activity levels and insulin doses over the study period.
Campbell and the research team found that taking regular walking breaks resulted in lower average blood sugar levels (6.9 mmol/L) over the 48-hour study period, compared to uninterrupted sitting (8.2 mmol/L). This increased time with blood sugar levels in the target range (3.9 to 10 mmol/L) by 14 percentage points, and did not cause blood sugars to become dangerously low.
“Breaking up prolonged sitting with light-intensity activity is something that people can do irrespective of whether they currently exercise or not. For some people, ‘activity snacking ’
could be an important stepping-stone towards more regular physical activity or exercise, whereas for others, it may be a simple and acceptable intervention to help manage blood glucose levels,” Campbell said.
“It’s incredibly encouraging that these findings suggest that making a simple, practical change—such as taking phone calls while walking, or setting a timer to remind you to take breaks—to avoid sitting for long periods could have such a profound effect on blood sugar levels,” said Elizabeth Robertson, director of research at Diabetes UK.
“For people with type 1 diabetes, managing blood sugar levels day in day out is relentless. Being physically active is important in managing the condition, but building exercise into your daily routine can be challenging, and even those who exercise frequently can often spend a lot of time sitting or lying down,” she added.