Mediterranean Diet Plus Exercise Dramatically Improves Heart Health

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Adopting a high-intensity interval training program along with the Mediterranean diet can dramatically improve a variety of factors related to heart health, according to new research present at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in people who have diabetes.

High-intensity interval training is a type of cardiovascular exercise that mixes high-intensity bouts of activity with low-intensity breaks over the course of 20 to 30 minutes. The Mediterranean diet is an eating style that emphasizes vegetables, whole grains, fish, fruits, low-fat dairy, nuts, and legumes.

The health effects of the Mediterranean diet and interval training have been studied separately, but no research had been conducted looking at the long-term effects of combining the two interventions. To investigate this dual approach, researchers from the Montreal Heart Institute assigned a group of people with abdominal obesity — who are at increased risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol — to engage in high-intensity interval training two to three times per week and to receive counseling on the Mediterranean diet.

After nine months on the study regimen, blood glucose levels in those with diabetes had dropped by an average of 23%, while glucose levels in people with prediabetes were reduced by 10%. “The greatest improvements in blood sugar levels were achieved in the individuals with diabetes, those who had the highest blood sugars,” noted study author Anil Nigam, MD. “Improvements and control in blood sugar levels using lifestyle interventions (exercise and diet) can substantially reduce their overall risk of heart disease and stroke and microvascular complications such as retina and kidney disease,” added author Mathieu Gayda, PhD.


Waist circumference was lowered by an average of 8 centimeters, systolic blood pressure (the top number) decreased by 6 mm Hg, and aerobic fitness improved by 15%. Improvements were also noted in body fat mass, cholesterol levels, muscle endurance, weight, and resting heart rate.

“Our results show that the combination of the two interventions supersized the benefits to heart health,” says Dr. Gayda.

For more information, read the press release from the Heart & Stroke Foundation, High-intensity interval training combined with Mediterranean diet counseling ‘supersizes’ heart health.” And to learn more about the Mediterranean diet and exercising with diabetes, click here or here, respectively.


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