Cardio vs. Diabetes

A recent scientific study shows that doing some moderately challenging movement can help your body produce a large amount of a particular metabolic hormone which can help combat obesity and diabetes. 

It is no secret that type 2 diabetes and obesity are increasing all over the world. Currently, the way that we treat these two health issues is not suitable for all patients. So researchers and physicians are constantly hunting for new ways to combat these problems. 

One promising therapeutic remedy is a naturally produced hormone called Fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21). It is so promising, in fact, that there are currently gene therapy trials and animal studies going on where mice are being fattened up and then given a boost of FGF21 with surprisingly great results. But these trials are far from being available to the general public (or even tested on humans). But that isn’t the end of the story.

What Is FGF21?

FGF21 is what is called a secreted protein which has been shown to behave like a metabolic regulator. That means it plays a large role in controlling things like glucose homeostasis, insulin sensitivity, and even ketogenesis. The liver is considered the main site of FGF21 production and from there it is released into the blood.

Well, a new research study at the University of Copenhagen just discovered that there is an easier way to boost FGF21 than by becoming an obese mouse or receiving gene therapy. In the new study titled Divergent effects of resistance and endurance exercise on plasma bile acids, FGF19, and FGF21 in humans, published in the scientific Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers showed that cardio exercise training (on an exercise bike) can cause up to three times as large an increase in the production of the hormone FGF21 than strength training with weights can.

How This Was Studied

The researchers studied 10 healthy young men (yeah, I know, I know), who were divided into two groups. The groups did two different workouts which were relatively hard and lasted 60 minutes. One workout was pure cardio which consisted of cycling at 70 percent of the test subject’s maximum oxygen intake (what I would call “comfortably uncomfortable”). The other workout was a strength training session that consisted of five exercises repeated ten times, focusing on the body’s major muscle groups.

After each workout, eight blood samples were taken over a period of four hours. The researchers did this so they could measure biomarkers like blood sugar, lactic acid, hormones, and bile acid which is how they found the significant increase in the production of the hormone FGF21. Interestingly the connection was only found after cardio exercise, the strength training workout showed no significant change in this hormone.

The researchers concluded that endurance training (in this case, on a bicycle) has such a significant effect on this important metabolic hormone that, although further research is required, it would appear that many of the health benefits we attribute to cardio exercise may be coming directly from FGF21.

Why is this important?

As we know from the gene therapy and mice studies, FGF21 has great potential as a treatment for diabetes, obesity, and similar metabolic disorders. But we don’t have to wait for that to be readily available.

The fact that the test subjects were able to increase the production of FGF21 simply through moderately-intense cardio training (or moving their body in moderately challenging ways) is very interesting, promising, and—if you are looking for motivation to move more—another reason to get out there and move more of your body, more often.

2 Replies to “Cardio vs. Diabetes”

  1. Interesting information—time will tell. We must say that measuring blood levels of a protein in healthy young men is not the same as demonstrating improvements in body weight and glucose control in a group of obese people with diabetes and other comorbidities. Regardless, cardio is incredibly important for all of us!

    1. Agreed, Steve. The majority of science that is available in sports medicine does frustratingly tend to focus on young white males. There is a shift happening but not fast enough. But yeah, getting more movement into your day is good for everyone.

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