How Can Patients With Diabetes and Obesity Lose Weight?

BERLIN — What is the best way to help patients with diabetes, heart problems, and obesity lose weight and improve their outcomes? Is it exercise or medication (such as glucagon-like peptide 1 or gastric inhibitory polypeptide receptor agonists)? This was the focus of a “Battle of Experts” at the 2024 Diabetes Congress in Berlin.Benefits of Exercise”Exercise is ‘omnipotent,'” said Christine Joisten, MD, general, sports, and nutrition physician at the Sports University in Cologne, Germany. She pointed out that exercise not only helps with weight loss but also improves overall fitness, body composition, eating habits, cardiometabolic health, and quality of life, listing the benefits of exercise.In a conversation with the Medscape German edition, Stephan Kress, MD, a diabetologist at Vinzentius Hospital in Landau, Germany, and first chair of the German Diabetes Society’s Diabetes, Sports, and Exercise Working Group, referred to a study by Pedersen et al. that examined the effect of exercise on 26 conditions. It indicated that exercise had moderate to strong positive effects on disease progression. The benefits of exercise extended beyond metabolic, cardiological, pneumological, and musculoskeletal diseases to neurological and psychiatric conditions.The so-called myokines, which are “good” cytokines released by muscles, could play a role in this process, according to a presentation by study author Bente Klarlund Pedersen, MD, of Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark.For example, exercise could elevate mood in patients with depression and reduce inflammation in individuals with chronic inflammatory diseases, said Kress. Many patients, including those with diabetes, could benefit from physical activity even if their HbA1c levels do not decrease as desired.Exercise As a SnackFat loss can be achieved with prolonged activity or with “short and intense” sessions if followed by refraining from eating immediately afterward, Joisten explained during the expert battle at the Diabetes Congress.Different recommendations exist regarding how much exercise is necessary. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation, “Every step counts.” “As sports physicians, we consider physical activity to be any form of energy expenditure achieved through muscle activity,” said Joisten.This means that even occasional standing up, walking around, climbing stairs, and everyday activities are a start. They help motivate stigmatized, discouraged patients with obesity. Joisten highlighted a clear advantage of exercise over the “weight loss injection.” “You can promise your patients that when they start or resume physical activity, they will experience the greatest increase in fitness and health right from the start.”Just 500 more steps per day can decrease cardiovascular mortality by 7%, while a daily increase of 1000 steps reduces overall mortality by 15%, according to a recent meta-analysis. For movement in a confined space, such as a home office, one can engage in “exercise snacks.” To do this, one interrupts sedentary activities throughout the day with short bursts of movement, said Joisten.Kress agreed with this introductory concept. “With lower intensity and longer duration, you can achieve even more than with short, intense exercise sessions,” he told Medscape Medical News. For starters, he recommended “walking without panting,” such as walking or jogging at a pace that allows for conversation.Even the first walk improves the condition of coronary arteries, Kress explained. Fragmented exercise sessions, such as three times for 10 min/d, benefit circulation and fitness, the expert emphasized. Moderate aerobic training also ensures effective fat burning and prevents lactic acid buildup.The Next StepGradual progression can lead to longer or brisker walks. The goal does not always have to be 10,000 steps per day, as shown in a meta-analysis presented by Joisten. In individuals aged < 60 years, 8000-10,000 steps significantly reduced mortality. For those aged > 60 years, 6000-8000 steps were sufficient.More exercise is even better. The WHO recommends 150-300 min/wk of exercise for adults, including seniors, equivalent to 30-60 min/d for 5 days a week. Additionally, strength training is recommended on 2 days a week — or for seniors, 3 days of combined training sessions with strength and balance components.In a network meta-analysis, the following exercise regimens were compared for overweight or obese individuals:Interval training (very high intensity, 2-3 d/wk, averaging 91 min/wk)Strength training (2-3 d/wk, averaging 126 min/wk)Continuous endurance training (moderate intensity, 3-5 d/wk, averaging 176 min/wk)Combined training (3-4 d/wk, averaging 187 min/wk)Hybrid training (high intensity, such as dancing, jumping rope, ball sports, etc., 2-3 d/wk, averaging 128 min/wk).Participants in the combined training group (which included the longest weekly training times) performed the best in all five endpoints: Body composition, blood lipid levels, blood sugar control, blood pressure, and cardiorespiratory fitness. However, hybrid training also produced good results.First, Visit the DoctorPatients who wish to exercise and have not done so in a while or who have cardiac-respiratory or orthopedic conditions should first undergo a medical checkup, Kress told Medscape Medical News.In most cases, a test on a stationary bicycle at the primary care physician’s office would be sufficient. If higher athletic goals are sought, a sports physician or a cardiologist should be consulted.However, when looking at weight loss alone, exercise may not go very far, said Joisten. Approximately 1.5-3.5 kg of body weight can be lost, as shown in a meta-analysis. Of this amount, about 1.3-2.6 kg is fat mass. Only 330-560 g of this total is visceral fat, which matters the most.A Direct ComparisonMatthias Blüher, MD, an endocrinologist and diabetologist at the University Hospital Leipzig in Leipzig, Germany, represented the pro-injection position. He initially focused on body weight and presented a highly publicized study by Lundgren et al., which showed that treatment with 3.0 mg/d liraglutide was significantly more effective in terms of weight loss than moderate to intensive physical activity. After 12 months, patients who received the injection lost 6.8 kg, while those who exercised lost only 4.1 kg. “The injection wins in a direct comparison,” said Blüher.The diabetologist also pointed out the risk for injury associated with exercise. Patients may become less active after a sports injury, he noted.The LOOK-AHEAD study investigated whether a lifestyle program involving exercise and dietary changes brought cardiovascular benefits. In the long run, it did not. Patients regained weight after some time, and the combined cardiovascular endpoint did not differ between the group with an active, healthy lifestyle and the inactive control group. The study was discontinued.The SELECT study compared the effect of treatment with once-weekly semaglutide 2.4 mg and placebo on cardiovascular events in patients with cardiovascular conditions and overweight or obesity (n = 17,604). Patients in the semaglutide arm had significantly fewer cardiovascular events over nearly 3 years than the comparison patients receiving placebo (6.5% vs 8.0%). Although the study participants did not have diabetes, they had relatively high baseline HbA1c levels; two thirds of the patients (n = 11,696) had prediabetes, with an HbA1c level ≥ 5.7%. Semaglutide significantly delayed the onset of diabetes in these patients, said Blüher.A review in which Blüher was involved showed that treatment with 2.4 mg semaglutide or 15 mg tirzepatide over 12 months was more effective than many older medications (including orlistat) but not as effective as bariatric surgery. Participants in the Exercise and Nutrition study performed even worse than with the older medications.Combination TherapyBlüher and Joisten agreed that the combined prescription and use of exercise and incretin-based medications yields the best results for relevant endpoints such as weight loss and blood sugar control.For example, data from the Lundgren study mentioned previously showed that participants in the combination group with liraglutide plus exercise lost an average of 9.5 kg of body weight. In addition, the HbA1c level, insulin sensitivity, and cardiorespiratory fitness of the participants in the combination group improved significantly over the course of the study.The suggestion of an interval therapy (alternating between exercise and injections) enjoyed widespread approval during the audience discussion. Kress also supported the idea of interval therapy with incretin-based injections because it minimizes costs and could enhance insurance companies’ acceptance of this therapy.But exercise should not be interrupted, he said, and perhaps patients would not want to take breaks either, hoping that “once someone has lost weight (for example, even under injection therapy) they gain new motivation to move and achieve more.”This story was translated from the Medscape German edition using several editorial tools, including AI, as part of the process. Human editors reviewed this content before publication.

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