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Seated upper body exercises ‘could reduce diabetes risk’

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Breaking up long periods of restful sitting with short, frequent bouts of simple seated arm exercises can benefit obese patients at high risk of type 2 diabetes, according to UK researchers.

Researchers in the East Midlands investigated the impact of performing short bouts of seated upper body activity on postprandial blood glucose and insulin levels during prolonged sitting.

“Sitting at our desks for a long time is a common issue in modern society”

Matthew McCarthy

The 13 study participants included both men and women, had an average body mass index of 33.8 and an average age of 66.

They were checked after a 7.5-hour period of prolonged sitting only, and one of sitting interspersed with five minutes of seated arm ergometry – using table-top arm cranks – every 30 minutes.

The authors found that blood glucose levels after meals reduced by around 57% when participants completed the exercises, compared to levels when meals were followed by inactivity.

Compared with the prolonged sitting-only condition, the implementation of seated arm ergometry every 30 minutes significantly reduced mean blood glucose from 7.4 mmol/L/h to 3.1 mmol/L/h.

Significant reductions in mean insulin, from 696 mU/L/h to 554 mU/L/h, were also observed, said the study authors in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism.

“Performing short bouts of arm ergometry during prolonged sitting attenuated postprandial glycaemia despite maintaining a seated posture,” said the researchers.

“This may have clinical significance for those with weight-bearing difficulty who may struggle with postural change,” they said.

“This is a great proof-of-concept study”

Thomas Yates

The study was carried out at the Leicester Biomedical Research Centre, a partnership between University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, Leicester University and Loughborough University. It was funded by the National Institute of Health Research – the research arm of the NHS.

Senior study author Dr Thomas Yates said: “This is a great proof-of-concept study. What will be interesting in the future is to see how many times during the day participants would need to interrupt their sitting with upper body exercises to get the greatest benefits in terms of reducing their blood sugar levels after eating.”

Matthew McCarthy, a PhD student and member of the research team at Leicester General Hospital, noted that the findings could have relevance for patients who were wheelchair-bound or had diabetic foot complications that meant they were advised not to bear weight.

“Completing short bursts of upper body activities using resistance bands or table-top arm cranks may be a way for these groups of people to activate their muscles and reduce their blood sugar levels after eating without having to get out of their seat,” he said.

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