Monday, August 11, 2014

Slow versus slow-brisk walking: Effects on type 2 diabetics

I am not a big fan of reviewing new studies published in refereed journals, particularly those that make it to the news. I prefer studies that have been published for a while, so that I can look at citations to them – both positive and negative.

But I am making an exception here to a study by Kristian Karstoft and colleagues (the senior author is diabetes researcher Thomas Solomon: ), accepted for publication on 30 June 2014 in the fairly targeted and selective journal Diabetologia (full text freely available in a .zip file at the time of this writing: ).

This is a small study. Individuals diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and who were not being treated for the condition, were allocated to three groups: a control group (CON), an “interval” walking group (IWT), and a slow walking group (CWT).

The groups had 8, 12, and 12 people in them, respectively. Those people in the IWT group alternated between walking briskly and slowly for 1 hour five times a week. Those in the CWT group only walked slowly. Those in the CON group supposedly did not do any targeted exercise.

One of the interesting findings of this study was that there was no difference in terms of health effects between the CWT and the CON groups. The only group that benefited was the IWT group. That is, those who alternated between walking briskly and slowly benefited in a way that was observable from the exercise, but those who walked slowly did not.

This study highlights two facts that I have mentioned here before, but that are often overlooked by those who suffer from type 2 diabetes or are on their way to developing the condition. They refer to visceral fat and are listed below. Visceral fat accumulates around the abdominal organs ().

- Type 2 diabetes is strongly associated with visceral fat accumulation, and is somewhat unrelated to subcutaneous fat accumulation (see the case of sumo wrestlers: ).

- Visceral fat is very easy to burn via glycolytic exercise, but does not seem to respond well to non-glycolytic exercise.

Glycolytic exercise burns sugar stored in muscle, in the form of glycogen, while it is being performed. This form of exercise raises growth hormone levels acutely. Weight training and sprints are types of glycolytic exercise, which also takes other names, such as glycogen-depleting and anaerobic exercise.

Often one sees prediabetics and type 2 diabetics avoiding this type of exercise because it pushes their blood glucose levels through the roof. That happens, however, only during the exercise. After, the benefits are tremendous and appear to clearly outweigh the possible problems associated with the temporary exercise-induced hyperglycemia.

Take a look at the last line of this cropped version of Table 1 from the study, shown below. The relevant line for the point made above is the one that refers to visceral fat volume. As you can see, those in the IWT group had the greatest reduction in visceral fat. This was also the only statistically significant reduction among the three groups; according to an analysis of variance (ANOVA) test, the probability that it was due to chance was lower than one tenth of one percent.

The ANOVA test is "parametric", in the sense that it assumes that the data is normally distributed. However, the authors did not report conducting a test of normality. Also, the sample is very small. Given these, "non-parametric" tests, such as multiple one-group-two-conditions tests run with WarpPLS (link to specific page of the .pdf file of a relevant academic paper: ) would not only be more advisable but also provide more much more information to readers.

If you compare the line showing visceral fat with the other two above it, within the body composition section of the table, you will notice another interesting pattern. In the IWT group the changes in average total body mass and total fat mass were also the greatest, but the largest change in percentage terms was the one in average visceral fat mass. Visceral fat mass is often correlated with total fat mass, with this correlation being a function of how sedentary individuals are, and it does not take a lot of it to cause serious problems.

Sumo wrestlers tend to have large ratios of total to visceral fat mass. Virtually all of their body fat is subcutaneous. They also carry a lot of muscle mass. They achieve these through intense glycolytic exercise alternated with periods of rest and consumption of large amounts of calorie-dense food. To these they add another ingredient - exercise in the fasted state, usually in the morning prior to a large breakfast. Exercise in the fasted state seems particularly conducive to visceral fat mobilization.

By the way, sumo wrestlers consume enormous amounts of carbohydrates, but as noted by Karam () have "low visceral fat, absent hyperglycemia and absent dyslipidemia despite massive subcutaneous obesity".

In my opinion the folks in the study by Karstoft and colleagues would have benefited even more, possibly a lot more, if they had alternated between sprinting and regular walking.