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Study Reveals How Exercise Helps Patients With Diabetes

Update Date: Jun 25, 2013 02:32 PM EDT

A new study reveals that exercise can help patients with type 2 diabetes. 

The findings, published in the journal Radiology, revealed that moderate-intensity exercise can reduce fat stored around the heart, in the liver and in the abdomen of people with the metabolic condition.  The study revealed that the exercise regimen helped diabetes patients, even in the absence of any changes in diet.

Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder that occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin, a hormone that regulates the movement of sugar into the cells or when the cells resist the effects of insulin.  Type 2 diabetes can lead to a wide range of complications, like damage to the eyes, kidneys and hardening of the arteries.

While doctors often advise diabetes patients to do exercise, the effects of exercise on different fat deposits in the body remain unclear, according to researchers.

"Based on previous studies, we noticed that different fat deposits in the body show a differential response to dietary or medical intervention," senior author Dr. Hildo J. Lamb, from the Department of Radiology at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, said in a news release. "Metabolic and other effects of exercise are hard to investigate, because usually an exercise program is accompanied by changes in lifestyle and diet."

Lamb and his ream looked at the effects of exercise on organ-specific fat accumulation and cardiac function in type 2 diabetes patients, independent of any other lifestyle or dietary changes.

The study involved 12 diabetes patients with an average age of 46 years.  Participants underwent MRI examinations before and after six months of moderate-intensity exercise totaling between 3.5 and six hours per week and featuring two endurance and two resistance training sessions. The exercise cycle culminated with a 12-day trekking expedition. 

The findings revealed that while cardiac function was not affected, the exercise regime led to a significant drop in fat volume in the abdomen, liver and around the heart. These fats have previously been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

"In the present study we observed that the second layer of fat around the heart, the peracardial fat, behaved similarly in response to exercise training as intra-abdominal, or visceral fat,"Lamb said. "The fat content in the liver also decreased substantially after exercise."

Researchers noted that exercise-induced fat reductions in the liver are of particular importance to people with type 2 diabetes because many patients are overweight or obese.

"The liver plays a central role in regulating total body fat distribution," he said. "Therefore, reduction of liver fat content and visceral fat volume by physical exercise are very important to reverse the adverse effects of lipid accumulation elsewhere, such as the heart and arterial vessel wall."

"In the future, we hope to be able to use advanced imaging techniques to predict in individual patients which therapeutic strategy is most effective: diet, medication, exercise, surgery or certain combinations," Lamb concluded.

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