New research shows that just short bursts of simple, gentle exercise can significantly lower blood pressure in patients with type 2 diabetes.

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Short flurries of exercise help lower blood pressure in type 2 diabetes patients.

Patients with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure have a significantly increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. As such, research into methods that minimize these risks are vital.

An estimated 29.1 million people in the US have diabetes, of which 90-95% are type 2.

From 2009-2012, 71% of diabetic adults (aged 18 or older), had a blood pressure of at least 140/90 mm Hg or used prescription medications to lower high blood pressure.

Individuals with a systolic blood pressure of 140 or more are considered to have high blood pressure.

In 2010, hospitalization rates for stroke were 1.5 times higher among adults with diabetes aged 20 years or older, compared with the general population. Research into effective methods of controlling blood pressure are increasingly valuable as the obesity trend continues.

These new findings were presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2015. The team of investigators, from Melbourne, Australia, found that just a few minutes of light movement every 30 minutes could lower blood pressure.

The trial was conducted on 24 obese or overweight people (average age 62) with type 2 diabetes as they sat for an 8-hour period.

Every 30 minutes, the participants either walked on a treadmill for 3 minutes at an average pace of 2 mph or carried out 3 minutes of light resistance exercises.

The resistance exercises consisted of half-squats, calf raises, knee raises or gluteal muscle squeezes. The study was carried out across 3 separate days, 8 hours per day, and the participants’ blood pressure and norepinephrine levels were checked at regular intervals.

The participants who embarked on the light walking were found to have an average 10-point decrease in their systolic pressure and those engaging in resistance exercise showed a 12-point decrease.

Co-author Bronwyn Kingwell, PhD, says:

It appears you don’t have to do very much. We saw some marked blood pressure reductions over trial days when people did the equivalent of walking to the water cooler or some simple body-weight movements on the spot.”

Long periods of inactivity have already been shown to have negative impacts on health and metabolism including obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.

This is the first study on short, intermittent bursts of light activity on type 2 diabetes patients in a controlled lab setting.

Kingwell notes that exercise benefits people with type 2 diabetes because as the muscles work, they take up more blood sugar. Because the patients either cannot make enough insulin or are unable to use it efficiently, this reuptake by the muscles is helpful toward maintaining a healthy internal balance.

The mechanisms through which blood pressure dropped during the trial are unclear. However, the team’s norepinephrine measurements might give an insight. They observed an associated drop in norepinephrine as blood pressure lowered.

Norepinephrine is a hormone and neurotransmitter, and a potential candidate for causing the blood pressure drop.

Generally, norepinephrine is released in times of stress or danger. It elicits arousal and alertness, increases vigilance and improves memory recall. During sleep, norepinephrine is at its lowest concentrations in the brain.

Importantly, in regards to this study, norepinephrine also increases blood pressure and heart rate. This measured drop may well have influenced the simultaneous decrease in blood pressure. However, further investigation will be needed before we can confidently attribute these positive changes to this particular chemical.

Kingwell adds:

Light activity breaks are not meant to replace regular, purposeful exercise. But they may be a practical solution to cut down sitting time, especially if you’re at your desk all day.”

So, in this case, less might not be more, but it certainly seems to be worthwhile. Medical News Today recently reported on how depression and diabetes are linked to a sedentary pregnancy.