Interval Training is not just for professional athletes but is useful for the rest of us who are just interested in living a healthier lifestyle.
For those not familiar, Interval Training (IT) consists of shorter periods of exercise where you vary the intensity during the workout. Instead of running/walking at a steady pace for an hour, you alternate running fast, running/walking slow and even mix in some other periods of weight training (pushups, squats, etc.).
For the study referenced in the NPR article, the IT group exercised for an hour by repeating this interval set 10 times – walking slowly for 3 minutes then walking fast for 3 minutes. The other test group walked at a continuous pace for an hour and the control group didn’t exercise at all.
The study found that only the IT group lowered their blood sugar levels and the results were dramatic – 20% lower than the other test group and the control group!
I’ve been a runner for the past 16 years and I’ve always understood the benefits of cross training to improve my running performance but it wasn’t until I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes did I start monitoring the effects of IT exercise on my blood sugar levels.
I wrote a post in April 2014 where I performed a similar experiment with a sample size of 1 (me!) and found almost identical results to the study referenced above.
I introduced weight training to my normal running/cycling workouts and found that I decreased my blood sugar levels about 10% when compared to my normal exercise routine and I saw a decrease of 20% when compared to a time period when I didn’t exercise at all.
Since that time I have modified my workouts and follow this routine for about 45 minutes – Run/walk for about 2 miles, then alternate sets of weight training (bench press, curls, shoulders, triceps) and leg work (lunges and squats). I do this exercise about 3 times per week and mix in pushups, lunges and squats at home when I don’t have time to get to a gym or go for a run.
I also still ride my road bike for about 1-2 hours 1 day a week but even though this is not normally considered an IT workout, I live in an area that is very hilly so even a 2 hour bike ride simulates IT because of the higher intensity effort used to ride up hills followed by lower intensity periods coast down a hill or peddling in a rhythm on a stretch of flat roads.
For me, the IT type workout is mentally better for me as well. I’ve run a marathon and while I enjoyed the feeling I got after a nice long run, the act of plodding along for hours doing the same thing was taxing on my psyche and mixing things up during a shorter workout is much more enjoyable for me.
It makes sense, scientifically, why IT reduces blood sugar levels. The main fuel for our muscles is glycogen which comes from glucose so when we exert extra muscle effort the glycogen is depleted and the body seeks to replenish those fuel stores by converting glucose to glycogen. Make those muscles sore and you’ll see your blood sugar levels drop!
Start mixing in IT type workouts in your routine and you’ll not only feel better, you’ll start to like what you see in the mirror every morning too!