"We were surprised at our findings," says Mayo Clinic endocrinologist Yogish Kudva, MBBS.
People with diabetes who engaged in basic physical activity after eating had blood sugar levels close to those of people without the condition, the study showed. Those who remained sedentary after meals had elevated blood sugar levels.
"You don't have to exercise a lot. Just walking the dog or washing the dishes after a meal, rather than going straight from the table to the TV, helps blood sugar control in people with type 1 diabetes," Kudva tells WebMD. "Physical activity enhances insulin action, hence lowering blood glucose concentration."
About 3 million Americans have type 1 diabetes, which is usually diagnosed in childhood or young adulthood. It's an autoimmune disease in which the body destroys its own ability to make insulin, which is needed to properly regulate blood sugar.
For the study, the researchers monitored 14 people without diabetes and seven people with type 1 diabetes over a four-day period at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Participants were given three identical meals each day. After one meal each day, participants laid in bed for six hours. After the other meals, they engaged in physical activity. Overall, participants walked at a moderate pace for an average of 3 to 4 miles a day, "about the same as the average American," Kudva says.
The sugars in one meal a day were labeled with a safe tracing dye so the researchers could measure how much sugar from food went in and how much came out.
The findings were presented here at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association.
Checking Blood Sugar Levels
Among people without diabetes, post-meal blood glucose levels increased an average of 50 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) if they exercised after eating. That is what we like to see in healthy people," Kudva says. Readings increased by up to 100 mg/dL if they were inactive.