Diabetes and Exercise

May 1, 2009

Exercise is critical to maintaining good health for people with Type 2 diabetes, but recent findings provide new understanding as to why people with diabetes do not exercise as much as they should.  A study published in this month’s Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, and led by University of Colorado Denver researcher Judith Regensteiner, PhD., finds that even when Type 2 diabetes has been very recently diagnosed, heart abnormalities are already present which show up during exercise.

It’s widely known that patients with diabetes have a somewhat impaired ability to exercise. What wasn’t clear is why this is the case.  The study, “Cardiac Dysfunction in Exercise in Uncomplicated Type 2 Diabetes,” provides some clues by  indicating that the stress of exercise may be due to the presence of a stiffer heart in association with reduced heart blood flow in people with recently diagnosed Type 2 diabetes.

“It appears people with Type 2 diabetes may have a harder time exercising not because they don’t like to but because the disease is having an impact on their heart’s ability to carry out exercise and may make it seem like harder work than for nondiabetic people,” said  Judith Regensteiner, PhD.

The study specifically targeted women because women with Type 2 diabetes may have a greater issue with the impact of exercise on the heart than males.   While resting, the participants had no signs of heart dysfunction, but when they were studied during exercise, their heart function was abnormal.  This study does not suggest that exercise is dangerous to people with diabetes.  In fact, Dr. Regensteiner and her colleagues are intrigued by the question of whether a program of regular exercise training may reduce or even completely reverse the abnormality by increasing heart blood flow which might decrease the stiffness of the heart.

The study is the first to report this type of finding and could prove critical to creating new methods of treatment and management of Type 2 diabetes.

The University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine faculty work to advance science and improve care. These faculty members include physicians, educators and scientists at University of Colorado Hospital, The Children’s Hospital, Denver Health, National Jewish Health, and the Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Degrees offered by the UC Denver School of Medicine include doctor of medicine, doctor of physical therapy, and masters of physician assistant studies.  The School is part of the University of Colorado Denver, one of three campuses in the University of Colorado system. For additional news and information, please visit the UC Denver newsroom online.