Elevated glucose and insulin levels are major risk factors in the development of cardiometabolic disease. Aerobic exercise is widely recommended to improve glycaemic control, yet its acute effect on glycaemia and glucoregulatory hormones has not been systematically reviewed and analysed in healthy adults.
To determine the effect of a single bout of continuous aerobic exercise on circulating glucose, insulin, and glucagon concentrations in healthy adults.
CENTRAL, CINAHL, Embase, Global Health, HMIC, Medline, PubMed, PsycINFO, ScienceDirect, Scopus and Web of Science databases were searched from inception to May 2020. Papers were included if they reported a randomised, crossover study measuring glucose and/or insulin and/or glucagon concentrations before and immediately after a single bout of continuous aerobic exercise (≥ 30 min) compared to a time-matched, resting control arm in healthy adults. The risk of bias and quality of evidence were assessed using the Cochrane Risk of Bias Tool and GRADE approach, respectively. Random-effects meta-analyses were performed for glucose, insulin, and glucagon. Sub-group meta-analyses and meta-regression were performed for categorical (metabolic state [postprandial or fasted], exercise mode [cycle ergometer or treadmill]) and continuous (age, body mass index, % males, maximal aerobic capacity, exercise duration, exercise intensity) covariates, respectively.
42 papers (51 studies) were considered eligible: glucose (45 studies, 391 participants), insulin (38 studies, 377 participants) and glucagon (5 studies, 47 participants). Acute aerobic exercise had no significant effect on glucose concentrations (mean difference: − 0.05 mmol/L; 95% CI, − 0.22 to 0.13 mmol/L; P = 0.589; I²: 91.08%, large heterogeneity; moderate-quality evidence). Acute aerobic exercise significantly decreased insulin concentrations (mean difference: − 18.07 pmol/L; 95% CI, − 30.47 to − 5.66 pmol/L; P = 0.004; I²: 95.39%, large heterogeneity; moderate-quality evidence) and significantly increased glucagon concentrations (mean difference: 24.60 ng/L; 95% CI, 16.25 to 32.95 ng/L; P < 0.001; I²: 79.36%, large heterogeneity; moderate-quality evidence). Sub-group meta-analyses identified that metabolic state modified glucose and insulin responses, in which aerobic exercise significantly decreased glucose (mean difference: − 0.27 mmol/L; 95% CI, − 0.55 to − 0.00 mmol/L; P = 0.049; I²: 89.72%, large heterogeneity) and insulin (mean difference: − 42.63 pmol/L; 95% CI, − 66.18 to − 19.09 pmol/L; P < 0.001; I²: 81.29%, large heterogeneity) concentrations in the postprandial but not fasted state. Meta-regression revealed that the glucose concentrations were also moderated by exercise duration and maximal aerobic capacity.
Acute aerobic exercise performed in the postprandial state decreases glucose and insulin concentrations in healthy adults. Acute aerobic exercise also increases glucagon concentrations irrespective of metabolic state. Therefore, aerobic exercise undertaken in the postprandial state is an effective strategy to improve acute glycaemic control in healthy adults, supporting the role of aerobic exercise in reducing cardiometabolic disease incidence.
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