By maintaining a healthy body weight and exercising - more than half of cancer deaths could be prevented and new cases of cancer could drop by 40 percent to 60 percent. Picture: Jason Boud

London - Short bursts of fast walking could hold the key to managing diabetes, according to a study.

Researchers found that patients who alternated between three minutes of rapid walking and three minutes of slow walking over an hour had better control of blood sugar levels than those who walked at a constant pace.

Traditionally, those with diabetes have been advised to stick to walking at a moderate pace and avoid high-intensity exercise in case it causes injury and discourages them from keeping active.

But scientists from Copenhagen University found interval walking training – or alternating between fast and slow walking – had greater health benefits and led to better control of blood sugar levels, a key marker for type 2 diabetes.

The research is published in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.

The Danish study involved patients aged between 57 and 61 who had type 2 diabetes and were receiving a variety of medications except insulin. Eight were randomly assigned to a control group, 12 to a continuous walking training group and 12 to an interval walking training (IWT) group.

The two walking groups were instructed to train for one hour, five times a week, during the four-month study period.

Their activity was tracked using a heart rate monitor and a training computer that included an accelerometer to measure their speed and movement.

IWT consisted of walking quickly for three minutes then slowly for three minutes, and repeating this throughout the session. The aim was to achieve 70 percent of peak energy expenditure during fast walking and 40 percent during slow walking.

Those in the continuous-walking group walked at the same moderate speed throughout each session. The aim was to achieve 55 percent of peak energy expenditure. Improved blood sugar control was found only in the IWT group, resulting in lowered glucose levels after exercise and probably caused by increased insulin sensitivity. No changes occurred in the continuous walking group or the control group.

In a previous study from the same research team led by Dr Thomas Solomon, interval walkers lost an average of half a stone (3.2kg) in weight, while the weight of continuous walkers did not change.

The weight loss was thought to be caused by “post-exercise oxygen consumption” – a phenomenon by which the body burns more fat after intensive exercise.

The researchers said: “Whether these beneficial effects of IWT continue and result in better health outcomes in the long term must be determined in order to justify the clinical utility of interval training for people with type 2 diabetes.”

Dr Richard Elliott, of the charity Diabetes UK, said: “This small study builds on previous evidence to suggest that interval training, involving alternating periods of high and low intensity exercise, might help people with type 2 diabetes to manage their blood glucose levels.

“It found that interval training seemed to be linked to improvements in insulin sensitivity around the body. Further research is needed to find out if this form of exercise yields greater long-term health benefit... and of course it might not be suitable for everyone with the condition.” - Daily Mail