We all know that exercise is good for us; it makes us feel good and has positive benefits for our waistlines and our health. Many of us like to start fresh in the new year, committing to finally losing weight or eating better. According to mainstream media reports, experts estimate nearly 40 percent of us make New Year’s resolutions, but only eight percent stick to and complete them.
Instead of making lavish and unrealistic benchmarks this year, understanding the science behind metabolism and the health benefits from a single workout could help you stay motivated and regulate your blood sugar levels.
Two researchers in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences are working behind the scenes in their Translational Metabolism Research Laboratory (TMRL) to explore the science behind metabolism. They have good news for individuals who currently engage in – and those who are thinking of starting – moderate intensity exercise.
Kinesiology professors Sean Newsom and Matt Robinson study the metabolic benefits individuals experience after exercise, and their research shows that just a single session can result in significant metabolic benefits and have a positive effect on blood sugar levels.
“The collaborations with Samaritan Health System provide an excellent opportunity for outstanding metabolic research right here in Corvallis,” Matt says. “The facilities and staff at the Samaritan Athletic Medicine are dedicated to improving the health of the community; and the support and involvement of the community are an important component of research and improving public health.”
Sean says that one research goal is to gain a better understanding of the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the benefits of exercise. With this understanding, experts will be able to optimize these benefits to prevent and treat disease to improve people’s health. He adds that the duo studies exercise because there is still so much to be discovered regarding its benefits.
“We know that someone does not need to become ‘fit’ to gain benefit from exercise,” Sean says. “Becoming aerobically fit is a wonderful goal and the driving force behind most current exercise recommendations. However, it is increasingly recognized that daily activity is a critical determinant of metabolic health, particularly as it relates to regulation of blood sugar.”
Sean says that knowing this is important for individuals who have or are at risk for type-2 diabetes because when they engage in just one exercise session, their blood sugar metabolism significantly improves for one to three days following the activity. Maintaining normal blood sugar metabolism is also important for minimizing risk for pre-diabetes and a host of related conditions, including numerous cardiovascular conditions.
Although this is wonderful news showing that it only takes one session to reap benefits, it doesn’t mean individuals should throw in the towel after a single session.
“In many cases, the metabolic benefit of exercise is short-lived, often lasting less than seven days,” Sean says. “In terms of blood sugar regulation, the direct benefits of exercise are rarely found to last beyond three days. What this means is that individuals must engage in a ‘dose’ of exercise activity every few days to gain this benefit.”
Frequency and duration
When starting an exercise routine for improved health, most people want to cut to the chase right away. People live busy lives and want to know how long and how often they should be engaging in those “doses” of exercise in order to improve their metabolism and blood sugar levels.
“To see improvements in blood sugar regulation, we know that 30 to 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise may be sufficient,” Sean says. “This can be achieved through walking, biking or any cardiorespiratory activity. Emerging evidence also suggests that minimizing sitting time and otherwise being physically active by standing or doing light physical activity is equally important for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.”
Sean says an important component to improving your metabolism through physical activity is making it fun and thinking about what makes you happy. He says you should also take walking or stretching breaks at work and spend at least a few minutes of each waking hour being active.
“Each day is a new opportunity to be active and to be healthy,” he says. “The take- home message should be that any activity is good, and likely metabolically beneficial.”
It starts in the lab
Sean and Matt are actively searching for new treatment options for metabolic diseases, including pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes. Their lab is where they conduct the research, alongside kinesiology doctoral students and study participants.
“Our work serves an important public health mission,” Matt says. “We encourage anyone who is interested in these issues to become involved in our research efforts. We are always seeking volunteers to participate in our research studies.”
Sean says that he and Matt were excited to bring their lab to OSU because of the university’s focus on public health, which provides an opportunity to help many people.
“It’s rare and unique for this type of research to occur at a university not affiliated with a medical school,” he says. “At OSU, we are one of only a few labs capable of doing this type of work – studying human subjects from molecule to person. Our work translates to real public health and changes in medicine.”