Holsworth Research Initiative

Our research focusses on exercise, physical activity and rehabilitation.

Research News

Resistance training for people living with diabetes and cardiovascular disease

Dr Brett Gordon is Associate Professor in Exercise Physiology and an Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) with the Rural Health School at La Trobe University. He leads the Active Rural Individuals research theme for the Holsworth Research Initiative. A/Prof Gordon’s research is focused on the role of exercise in the management of chronic disease and mechanisms to improve compliance to, and recovery from, exercise. He is currently completing projects in the areas of prediabetes, diabetes, heart disease, hospital care, military transition, and resistance training. His favourite sports are anything that contains a ball or an opponent!  His Twitter handle is: @BrettGordonAEP

A/Prof Gordon and his research team are keenly interested in how exercise professionals can help people living with chronic conditions get “the best bang for their buck” when they exercise.

As Brett says:

Exercise is a proven way for people to control their blood glucose levels and prevent chronic disease states like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, especially for people living with or at risk of diabetes. But which exercise is best for people living with these conditions?

High intensity or resistance exercise?

Research has shown that short, vigorous bouts of exercise lower blood glucose, which is great news as high levels of blood glucose is bad for tissues and organs, such as kidneys, eyes and nerves, and is a key driver in developing diabetes.

Brett and his team set out to find out if high intensity exercise, such as cycling, or resistance exercise (sets or ‘reps’ of repeated lifting and lowering exercise) were equally good at controlling blood glucose levels.

Knowing which exercise method is best will help exercise physiologists decide whether prescribing high intensity exercise or resistance exercise gives people the best tools for maintaining their health.

Advantages and disadvantages

  • High intensity exercise often requires expensive equipment (such as a bicycle) or high impact activities, such as going to gym classes. It is also viewed as more “enjoyable” than continuous exercise.
  • Resistance exercise is low cost and can be completed at home with or without specialised equipment, but has not been investigated for its enjoyment.

Blood glucose and stress hormones

A/Prof Gordon and his team asked volunteers to trial both the high intensity interval exercise (using an exercise bike) and the resistance exercise (using sets or ‘reps’ of squats, calf raises and an incline leg press). They measured the amount of glucose in the blood before, during and after exercise.

  • They found that high intensity interval exercise could cause a marked rise in blood glucose for the hour following exercise.
  • This change in blood glucose was not seen after resistance exercise, meaning that this might be a better way for people with chronic conditions to maintain their health.

Why is resistance training better for people with diabetes?

  • It seems that the stress hormone, cortisol, released during exercise influences how the body uses or produces glucose.
  • High intensity interval exercise uses both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems while resistance exercise primarily uses the anaerobic energy system.
  • Resistance exercise promotes the uptake of glucose from blood without stimulating glucose production.

Brett is keen to stress that:

This is a preliminary “proof of concept” study into the fascinating and complex interaction between hormones, blood glucose, exercise, and energy-systems.

He and his team hope to build on this research to further explore how hormones influence the body’s energy-system use, and the impact of this on exercise so they can pin-point the best ways for people to exercise and maintain their health.

We look forward to providing future updates on this research.

Do you want to learn more?

Read their paper on glucose responses to exercise.

This research fits with the Holsworth Research Initiative aim:

To address the global challenges of inactivity and chronic disease