According to results from a recent research, six weeks of intensive CrossFit exercise could improve blood sugar levels, reduce insulin resistance, and decrease the risk for heart disease in people with type 2 diabetes.
Experts warn people with diabetes to be cautious with such an intense, quick-paced exercise, however, this report is contradictory.
Can a month and a half of intense exercise actually improve the health of someone with diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a complex metabolic disorder that affects more than 30 million people in the United States.
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Some patients’ bodies struggle to make enough insulin to meet their demands. This is sometimes the result of insulin resistance, a diet high in processed foods, and a lack of exercise.
Other patients’ bodies produce enough insulin, but for some unknown reasons, their body fights to make use of it properly.
Both of these situations can make it easier to gain weight, and harder to lose weight.
Regular exercise is one of the most important prescriptions a doctor can write for a patient with type 2 diabetes.
Results from Study
CrossFit is a fitness class that combines high-intensity aerobic exercise (such as sprints and box jumps) with high-intensity weightlifting (power cleans, deadlifts), and bodyweight exercises (pullups, rope climbs).
John Kirwan, executive director of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University and co-author of the study explained;
“Sessions range from 8 to 20 minutes in duration and represent a far more time-effective form of exercise than traditional exercise interventions.”
In the study, researchers concluded that “the postexercise intervention test results indicated noteworthy improvements in insulin sensitivity and heart disease risk factors.”
“Importantly, these improvements appeared to be similar to the sort of changes expected from more traditional exercise interventions, despite participants spending considerably less time exercising than such guidelines recommend,” the researchers added.
Kirwan and his department submitted a study proposal to the CrossFit organization in a bid to work together on the research.
“CrossFit provided some, but not all of the cost,” Kirwan told Healthline. “We submitted other proposals to other peer-reviewed internal CCF (Cleveland Clinic Foundation) funding mechanisms to secure additional funding.”
How CrossFit works
CrossFit’s success is largely the result of making heavy lifting more approachable with an intense yet lighthearted competitive edge that’s present in every class.
Perhaps the most exceptional aspect of a CrossFit program is it packs a lot into a small time frame. In fact, because the intensity level is so high, many people wouldn’t want to perform the exercise routine for a full hour.
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However, people with type 2 diabetes are often overweight or obese. So, regular exercise can be challenging.
Signing up for CrossFit may be as realistic and safe for these people as sending a 9th grader who barely made it on the reserve soccer team to run on the field with the varsity seniors.
“Well, yes, resistance training exercise improves insulin sensitivity, we already know that,” Christel Oerum from Diabetesstrong said. “CrossFit can be a great tool for increasing your sensitivity to insulin… assuming you don’t get hurt.”
Exercise and diabetes
Oerum has been coaching clients with type 1 and type 2 diabetes for years.
She guides them through adopting a healthier relationship with food and making exercise an everyday part of their life.
“You have to take your starting point into consideration,” explained Oerum. “If you’re obese, elderly, or you haven’t done any exercise in a long time — or ever — hardcore CrossFit is probably not the best place to start.”
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While CrossFit does offer beginning level classes, no aspect of a CrossFit program is designed to be gentle or easy.
The next question is whether CrossFit actually provides an experience that’s unique when it comes to battling insulin resistance and high blood sugar.
Or can those same results be achieved through nearly every other type of regular exercise?
“CrossFit is just one type of exercise,” said Oerum.
For those chronic joint pain or other injuries, Oerum said that simply walking every day can have a significant impact on your diabetes goals without the risks that come with the intensity of CrossFit.
For many of her clients with type 2 diabetes, simply sitting and standing repeatedly for a few minutes is a challenge. For some, walking for 30 minutes is a great task.
While CrossFit may certainly demonstrate results, the study’s author acknowledges that the most successful results seen were simply outliers.
“Oerum recommends that those with type 2 diabetes approach CrossFit with caution.