How Cardio Can Help Cure Diabetes

A new study shows that cardio exercise produces a large amount of a metabolic hormone which can help combat obesity and diabetes. 

Brock Armstrong
3-minute read
Photo of people riding their bikes

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 on the lookout for other 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).

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.

Cardio exercise training can cause up to three times as large an increase in the hormone FGF21 than strength training can.

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.

The Study

The researchers studied 10 healthy young men, 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 against diabetes, obesity, and similar metabolic disorders, so the fact that the test subjects were able to increase the production of FGF21 simply through moderately-intense cardio training is very interesting, promising, and—if you are an avid mover like me—another reason to get out there and get fit. Or at least start riding your bike to work.

Don't forget to subscribe to the Get-Fit Guy podcast on Apple Podcasts, StitcherSpotify, Google Play or via RSSFor more info, tips, and to join the conversation, head over to Facebook.com/GetFitGuy or twitter.com/getfitguy.

About the Author

Brock Armstrong

Brock Armstrong is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute. Do you have a fitness question? Leave a message on the Get-Fit Guy listener line. Your question could be featured on the show. 

You May Also Like...