HIIT v.s. Type 2 Diabetes


In this study, researchers have shown that “only a few minutes of high intensity interval exercise, performed over two weeks, significantly improves glycemic control in sedentary young adults”.

the very definition of sedentary
the very definition of sedentary

In contrast, previous studies have shown that:

  • Long term (2-16 months) aerobic exercise programs have produced mixed results. While there were improvements in the insulin profile, the same can’t be said for the blood sugar profile. This indicates only a partial improvement in insulin action.
  • Long term strength training programs (hypertrophy style programs) produced results similar to the cardio programs.
  • Walking based interventions have also be unsuccessful with groups trying to prevent the risk factors of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

The Science

The HIIT effect on blood sugar and insulin response
The HIIT effect on blood sugar and insulin response

The low volume, high intensity interval training utilized in the current study significantly reduced both glucose AUC (area under curve) by (-12%) and insulin AUC by (-37%), with a sustained improved insulin action until at least day three after the last exercise session.

And these improvements required a minimal time commitment from the test subjects.

The HIIT Program

  • 2 weeks in duration
  • 6 workouts (3 per week)
  • 17-26 minutes per workout
  • 2-3 minutes of sprints per workout
  • Average caloric burn – 250 per workout (note – the researcher only measured caloric burn during the session – there was no mention of EPOC)

In comparison, the long term cardio programs I mentioned earlier required the test subjects to spend hours on an exercise bike, sweat out between 2000 to 3000 calories per week…and still receive inferior results.

So let’s compare:

HIIT Workout

  • Less time spent exercising
  • Better results

Cardio Workout

  • More time spent exercising
  • Inferior results


HIIT workouts produce significant improvements in glycemic contol and are a superior method for helping sedentary people improve their glycemic control.

Translation: HIIT kicks some serious Type 2 Diabetes butt.


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  1. I agree. I tell people this all the time, but no one ever listens to me. Everyone has the excuse that they are to out of shape to do HIIT and say they got to build up by doing long endurance cardio. HIIT is the king of all cardio hands down.

  2. What should the average person (ie, not a bodybuilder, not a couch potato) aim for in terms of frequency/duration when establishing in HIIT routine? I’ve read all your posts on it, and saw the sample workouts, and it looks like we should do around four 4-minute workouts, at least twice a week, right? I was just confused about how many 4-minute exercises to do in one session, and how often I should do the sessions. The exercises I’m looking at are more resistance-type ones (squat-thrusts, squats, windshield wipers, etc.) as opposed to sprinting. Thanks in advance! (And as always I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your recent posts.)

  3. Really good post! I hadn’t seen this research before, it shows that our diabetic patients need a thoroughly different approach than the regular therapy – I am thinking the same as Emily, it would be important to build the person from ‘mere mortal’ to ‘hiit-ready’ asap – that might be the biggest challenge.

  4. I’ve been doing HIIT workouts about four times per week for three weeks now. I do it on the elliptical trainer at the gym. (The stationary bike tends to hurt my knee.) I can go harder on the stair master, because I’m using my upper body at the same time as my legs. I warm up for about five minutes at modest speed and resistance, then turn up the resistance really high and go AS HARD AS I CAN for 30 seconds, then go slow and easy for five to ten minutes, and repeat, until I have done four high-intensity intervals. I go slow and easy for about five minutes to cool down. 25 to 30 minutes total.

    When I say I go “as hard as I can,” this is what I mean. On a Life Fitness model 9500 elliptical trainer, I’m at level 18 at 80 to 90 rpm. This is equivalent to a rate 2000 calories per hour.

    I’m a type-2 diabetic, 60 years old. The last two times I checked, I started the workout with blood glucose of 140 to 150. After the workout, it was down to about 70. I’ve had to reduce my insulin dose.

    I’m hoping I will reduce my insulin need, and maybe won’t need insulin at all. (I don’t use oral meds.) Time will tell. I believe none of what I hear and half of what I see.

    All the ecstatic blog posts and articles forget to mention one thing: These workouts are exhausting! Very exhausting. After each interval, I feel like I might faint and fall off the machine. I remain winded for about five minutes after each one. I’m physically tired for at least an hour after I leave the gym. I was already fairly fit. I’ve been doing fairly regular cardio and strength exercises for years. Maybe I’ll get used to these workouts after awhile.

  5. HIIT is great on a treadmill. Its the only time running on one is fun. I do it 4-5 times a week. I live near a boat ramp and run up the incline,then jog back down. repeat for 9 more trips and jog home. That get my pulse racing!

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