15-minute workouts may reverse type 2 diabetes in just six weeks

Henry Bodkin
The participants exercised three times a week - Credit: Image Source Salsa / Alamy Stock Photo

Fifteen-minute workouts could reverse diabetes in just six weeks, new research suggests. A trial of overweight men found that short, intense resistance training sessions three times a week significantly boosted their ability to manage insulin.

Previous research has indicated that 45-minute workouts could have this effect, but the new study has been greeted with particular excitement as experts believe type 2 diabetes patients will be more likely to commit to shorter sessions.

It is estimated that by 2025 there will be five million people with a diabetes diagnosis in the UK, 90 per cent of whom will have type 2, which is related to lifestyle.

Despite rates getting worse, public awareness that many people can delay or even reverse their condition through lifestyle changes is improving, thanks in part to high-profile examples such as Labour MP Tom Watson,  who is free of the disease after losing seven stone.

Published in the journal Experimental Physiology, researchers from the University of Glasgow recruited ten men who were overweight, defined as having a body mass index of 25 to 29.

In each training session they were required to undertake a single set of nine standard resistance exercises such as leg presses and bicep curls at 80 per cent of their maximum lift capability until they were no longer able to lift any more.

Measurements revealed that insulin sensitivity increased by 16 per cent following the exercise regimen.

Meanwhile muscle size and strength, were measurably increased after only two weeks of training.

Insulin sensitivity describes how sensitive the body is to the effects of the hormone, which is responsible for the uptake of sugars from blood to tissues for storage or to use as energy.

When insulin sensitivity decreases, as in the case of type 2 diabetes, blood sugars rise, which in the short-term can lead to feelings of fatigue, but over time is related to complications including heart disease and stroke.

While the participants in the new trial were not themselves suffering from diabetes, the research team believe the results would be applicable to patients with the condition because 90 per cent of type 2 diabetics are overweight or obese.

The new study is the first to demonstrate that such simple exercise, with a weekly time commitment of less than one hour, can increase insulin sensitivity in overweight people.

Its authors said the format adopted by their volunteers should “appeal to many”.

“Importantly, the exercise protocol in present study where participants performed a single set to volitional failure [too tired to continue] for each exercise, with the sessions lasting 15 to 20 minutes, involved a much smaller time-commitment than the majority of previous resistance training interventions which generally involved multiple [two to four] sets of exercise for each muscle group,” they wrote.

This follows research by Loughborough University published last August which found that taking hot baths can be more effective than cardiovascular exercise for lowering blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

The trial found that just one bath could reduce peak blood sugar levels by 10 per cent ore than an hour cycling.

Stuart Gray, who led the Glasgow group, said: "On top of these results, we know that the gym is not for everyone. Therefore, we also need to see if we can get people doing similar exercises at home without gym equipment, to achieve similarly beneficial effects."