A recent study conducted at the University of Missouri sought to evaluate the effect of physical activity of postprandial (after a meal) blood glucose and blood glucose variability in healthy and active volunteers as they went about their normal lives. Previous studies tying low levels of physical activity to insulin resistance had typically been conducted in a laboratory setting.
Researchers equipped twelve volunteers between aged 20 and 35 (eight men and four women) with continuous glucose monitors and pedometers to measure activity. The participants kept detailed records of diet and physical activity for three days while maintaining their normal activity patterns. After resting for one week the participants were instructed to severely reduce activity levels for three days.
In just three days of reduced physical activity researchers noted significant increases in postprandial glucose. The variations between the highest glucose levels and the lowest also increased, as well as the length of time the postprandial blood glucose concentration stayed above target levels. Fasting plasma insulin was increased too, possibly because inactivity requires more insulin to reduce blood glucose levels.
While exercise is widely accepted as beneficial to cardiovascular health over the long term, this study suggests that regular activity is important in the short term for maintaining healthy glucose metabolism.