How High-Intensity Exercise Can Restore Healthy Heart Function in Diabetics

How High-Intensity Exercise Can Restore Healthy Heart Function in Diabetics

(Last Updated On: June 2, 2019)

Can high-intensity exercise help diabetics

Cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death among women. In fact, one out of five women will succumb to some form of heart disease. However, diabetics have an even greater risk of developing heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, more than 68% of diabetics over the age of 65 will ultimately die of cardiovascular disease. As you might expect, there’s lots of interest in lowering this risk among diabetics. Can high-intensity exercise help?

We know that exercise, in general, lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease in a variety of ways. For example, it helps lower blood pressure and blood sugar and helps optimize lipids and weight control. These are all important for reducing the risk of heart problems. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that Americans get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise weekly for health purposes. For diabetics, the latter recommendation might be better. Here’s why.

The Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training for People with Type 2 Diabetes

According to a new study Published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, high-intensity interval training may be the ticket to helping diabetics reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease. For the study, researchers asked adults with type 2 diabetes to take part in three months of high-intensity interval training, also known as HIIT. This type of training pushes the body hard for short periods of time and then allows it to partially recover before repeating the cycle over and over until the workout is complete.

During the study, the participants alternated periods of high-intensity exercise with recovery intervals for 25 minutes during each session. For the active intervals, the subjects pushed the intensity to around 90% of their maximum and then recovered before doing it again. This is similar in structure to many HIIT training programs. It’s not important what exercise you do but that you almost max out your effort during the active intervals. You can sprint, cycle, do squat jumps, burpees, mountain climbers, or any other exercise you can do vigorously during the active intervals.

Despite the challenging nature of HIIT training, eight out of ten of the participants stuck with the program. Although it’s a challenge, many people prefer high-intensity interval training because you can get benefits from workouts as short as ten minutes if you focus on intensity.  The results? The researchers found that three months of HIIT training improved heart function in type 2 diabetics in the study. One of the early changes you see in heart function in diabetics is the left ventricle, the big chamber in the lower heart that pumps oxygenated blood to the body becomes a less efficient pump. As a result, the heart can’t pump as much oxygenated blood to the rest of the body with each heartbeat.

Here’s the good news. The researchers discovered that subjects who did HIIT training showed improvements in the function of the left ventricle and better heart function as a whole. So, high-intensity interval training seems to improve heart function in diabetics. Studies also show high-intensity training does the same in non-diabetics. These improvements in heart function are especially important for diabetics since they’re at such high risk of cardiovascular disease. As one of the researchers pointed out, “High-intensity exercise is capable of reversing some of the changes in heart function that seem to precede diabetic heart disease.”

High-Intensity Interval Training is Good Medicine

HIIT training is a more time expedient way to train, and it leads to a greater “after-burn,” the period afterward where the body has to expend more energy to recover. This type of training improves fitness quickly, including cardiovascular health. In fact, cardiologists often recommend supervised HIIT training for people with heart disease or after a heart attack to help them recover heart function. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that HIIT was effective and carried a low risk of adverse events in people who have cardiovascular disease or heart failure.

Another meta-analysis of 10 studies looking at HIIT training in people with chronic conditions such as obesity, hypertension, and obesity found HIIT was more effective for boosting cardiovascular fitness and heart health than moderate-intensity exercise.

Other Benefits of HIIT Training

High-intensity interval training benefits people with type 2 diabetes in another way. This type of training helps with blood sugar control. After a workout, cells are better able to take up glucose, even without insulin. In fact, a 2017 study found that high-intensity interval training was more effective than moderate-intensity exercise for improving insulin sensitivity and how cells handle glucose. The moderate-intensity group, over a two-week period, experienced only half the benefits that the HIIT group did. Another study found that only two hours of HIIT training over 14 days improved glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity in overweight men and women.

Therefore, high-intensity training might be a better choice for people with type 2 diabetes than moderate-intensity workouts. It’s also a good choice for anyone who wants to get an effective workout in a short period of time. What’s more, high-intensity interval training makes mitochondria, the energy producers of cells, more efficient and also increases their numbers. This is important as the mitochondria age, along with the rest of the body.

The Bottom Line

HIIT training offers real “perks” for people with type 2 diabetes. Not only does it help with insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control, but it may also prevent some changes in heart function that diabetics experience. Of course, almost anyone can benefit from some form of high-intensity interval training. Due to the brevity of these workouts, it eliminates the excuse of “I have no time.” However, it’s a good idea to get medical clearance if you have health problems before starting a high-intensity training program. Then, start out slow and slowly build your cardiovascular fitness. Your heart will thank you!



·        Science Daily. “High-intensity exercise may restore heart function in people with type 2 diabetes”

· “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans”

·        Journal of the American Heart Association. “High‐Intensity Interval Training for Patients With Cardiovascular Disease—Is It Safe? A Systematic Review”

·        Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 51(6):1099–1105, JUN 2019. DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001897, PMID: 30640284.

·        Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Publish Ahead of Print():, FEB 2019. DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001931. PMID: 30829901.

·        Science Daily. “High-intensity interval training rapidly improves diabetics’ glucose metabolism”


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