COLLEGE OF MEDICINE AND HEALTH
Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health Professions

Exercise may delay the progression of Type 1 diabetes

Exercise could delay progression of Type 1 diabetes when first diagnosed

Innovative new research has suggested that physical activity around the time people are diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes could have long-term health benefits, improve blood glucose levels, reduce hypos and reduce the risk of complications, such as retinopathy and neuropathy. 

It is believed that around 60 per cent of adults newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes experience a ‘honeymoon’ period. This means the beta cells in their pancreas are still working and their body is still sensitive to insulin, which means they don’t need much of it.

Scientists at the Universities of Birmingham and Exeter studied 17 people from three clinics in the UK, who had all been recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and who were doing significant levels of exercise. They were matched with people who had also being recently diagnosed and were the same age, sex and weight, but not doing any exercise.

They found that those who exercised had a ‘honeymoon’ period that lasted on average four times longer (28.1 months) than those who didn’t exercise (7.5 months).

Type 1 diabetes is a serious, lifelong condition where the body can’t make insulin. Without careful treatment, this can cause blood glucose levels to be too high and increase the risk of life-changing complications, such as sight loss and kidney disease. Currently 4.6 million people in the UK have diabetes, and around 10 per cent of these have Type 1 diabetes.

Lead author of the study, Dr Parth Narendran, of the University of Birmingham, said: “Our data demonstrates exercise could play an important role for people newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

“We propose that exercise prolongs honeymoon through a combination of improving how the body responds to insulin and preserving the function of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This could have important benefits in people with Type 1 diabetes, including improved blood glucose control, less episodes of hypoglycaemia and a reduced risk of diabetes-related complications.”  

“There is now a need for clinical trials to investigate whether exercise can prolong the duration of honeymoon and to explore the mechanisms underlying this”.

Rob Andrews, Associate Professor at the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “Our study provides further evidence that exercise in newly diagnosed patients with Type 1 diabetes can delay the progression of the disease. During the honeymoon it is easier to control blood glucose, with fewer swings and less risk of dangerously low blood glucoses, so anything that can prolong this needs to be encouraged.

“Interestingly, data from another study, which we are also presenting at DUKPC, suggests that exercise levels of newly diagnosed patients with Type 1 diabetes is less than age matched people without diabetes.  Hopefully this data on the effect of exercise on the honeymoon will encourage healthcare workers and patients to try to increase their exercise levels from diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes.”

Dr Elizabeth Robertson, Director of Research at Diabetes UK, said: “This is the first time scientists have examined the effect of exercise on people recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. The results are very exciting and suggest exercise could play an important role in delaying the progression of Type 1 diabetes, which in turn could help to protect against devastating long-term complications.”

The annual Diabetes UK Professional Conference brings together world class scientists, researchers and healthcare professionals to present new research and health programmes to tackle the UK’s diabetes crisis. For more information, click here.

This year, Diabetes UK are also hosting the DUKPC Insider event, for people with diabetes and their family and friends. It will provide a unique opportunity for them to hear about exciting new developments in diabetes research, innovation and technology. For more information, click here.

To read more about Diabetes research at Exeter, please visit our website.

Date: 12 March 2018

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