With more than one million Australians currently living with diabetes and the number expected to rise to three million in 20 years, the findings have the potential to significantly reduce the burden of the deadly disease.
Diabetes researchers from ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences recruited 30 obese elderly women and put them on an exercise program, with half walking upstairs and the others walking downstairs.
At the end of the 12-week program, the women who walked down stairs showed improvements on several physiological measures. They had significantly lower levels of resting glucose, insulin and haemoglobin 1AC, improved oral glucose tol- erance test, and decreased triglycerides and cholesterols together with an increase of good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) in their blood. All of these changes will have lowered their risk of developing diabetes, according to the researchers.
While both groups recorded an improvement it was significantly greater in the down stairs group. The greater improvement in the down stairs group is almost certainly because walking down stairs is what is called eccentric exercise. It is where load is placed on the muscle while it is lengthening, rather than shortening.
For example, walking down stairs is eccentric exercise because your front thigh muscles are lengthening when they are placed under load, as opposed to walking up stairs in which the muscles are shorten- ing, performing mainly concentric contractions.
As well as protecting against metabolic syndrome and diabetes, the researchers also found that the down stairs group’s physical function such as walking ability, balance, bone mineral density and resting heart rate and blood pressure all improved significantly more than the up stairs group. There are lots of ways to incorporate ec- centric exercise into your life to enjoy the health benefits. If you work in a tall build- ing, try taking the lift up to work, but then walk down the stairs when you go home. Or, if you are using weights, concentrate on lowering the weights slowly, because the lowering action causes your muscles to perform eccentric exercise.
Even sitting down in your chair slowly makes your leg muscles to contract eccentrically.