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The three-month study found that the six people with type 1 diabetes who did aerobic workouts had better blood sugar control, used less insulin and had fewer high blood sugar events than the seven who did no exercise.
The study was published online Oct. 11 in the journal Cell Transplantation.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes the body's immune system to attack the body's insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. People with type 1 diabetes are left with little to no insulin -- a hormone necessary for the body to use the carbohydrates found in food.
Because people with type 1 diabetes don't have enough insulin to meet the body's needs, they must take insulin multiple times a day. This can be done through multiple daily injections, or via a small tube inserted under the skin and attached to an insulin pump, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA).
Combined with insulin therapy, exercise can help people with type 1 diabetes manage the disease, and may help people use less insulin, according to the study. However, exercise alone cannot be used to treat the disorder. Insulin is always needed for people with type 1 diabetes, the ADA says.
"We found that being physically active can improve [blood sugar] control for patients with type 1 diabetes," study co-author Dr. Livio Luzi said in a journal news release. Luzi is with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine's Diabetes Research Institute.
"Our results suggest that an educational program addressed to [type 1 diabetes] patients, and focused on insulin injecting monitoring, diet and exercise, is highly advantageous for management of [type 1 diabetes]," Luzi added.
Further studies with larger numbers of patients need to be conducted, according to the researchers.
"The current study provides physiological data that demonstrate exercise is an important factor in improving and managing type 1 diabetes," said Dr. Rodolfo Alejandro, also from the Diabetes Research Institute, and section editor of the journal.
"With the increasing rate of diabetes, including an exercise program as part of treatment is highly recommended and, when coupled with insulin therapy, may yield better results for patients," Alejandro said.
-- Robert Preidt
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SOURCE: Cell Transplantation, news release, Oct. 11, 2016