The Enzyme That Makes Exercise Healthy

| January 28, 2017

We all know exercise is great medicine for our bodies and minds. I listed some of its benefits earlier here. For people with type 2 diabetes, exercise also has the bonus of reducing insulin resistance and lowering both fasting blood sugar and glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) levels, as I mentioned here. And I reported in my last blog post how even moderate physical activity could help memory storage and recall in people with type 2 diabetes.

Until now, scientists haven’t really understood the way that simply being more active can have so many positive effects, particularly for people with type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance. But new research from the University of Copenhagen reveals that an enzyme called AMP-activated protein kinase – AMPK, for short – plays a crucial role in getting insulin to stimulate glucose uptake in muscles.1

Put simply, the contraction of muscle fibres during exercise activates AMPK, which increases insulin-stimulated glucose uptake. So, exercise improves the way that your muscle cells take up sugar from your blood, and once inside those cells it gets burned to provide energy. Together, these two effects result in lower and better-controlled blood sugar levels.

The researchers hope that their discovery will lead to a drug that mimics these effects of exercise – a workout in a pill for people with type 2 diabetes. I rather hope that it doesn’t. The mechanisms through which exercise boosts so many aspects of our wellbeing are still far from being completely understood. And, if people have the choice between taking a pill and doing the real thing, it could mean even fewer of us get the amount of exercise we need.

For me, physical activity isn’t just about doing something I know is good for me – it’s about doing things that make me feel good. Like standing on a mountain top and taking in the view. Or walking down a woodland path on a May morning and hearing the birdsong. Or swimming in the sea and feeling the power of the waves. You can’t put that in a pill.

While exercise and diet can reverse most cases of type 2 diabetes, type 1 is a different matter. In my next blog post I’ll be reporting on the development of a bionic pancreas that has shown great promise in early trials.

Wishing you the best of health,

Martin Hum
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth

Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.


1. Kjøbsted R, Munk-Hansen N, Birk JB et al. Enhanced muscle insulin sensitivity after contraction/exercise is mediated by AMPK. Diabetes. 2016 Oct 26. (Online ahead of print)

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