- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2005

NEW ORLEANS - If exercise is too much of an uphill battle, you may want to try the downside. A study of hikers in the Alps showed that different types of exercise had different effects on fats and sugars in the blood.

Going uphill cleared fats from the blood faster, going downhill reduced blood sugar more, and hiking either way lowered bad cholesterol.

Both types of hiking are beneficial, but one may help diabetics more than the other, said Dr. Heinz Drexel of the Academic Teaching Hospital of Feldkirch, Austria.

Dr. Drexel reported his study, involving steep mountains and lifts at a ski resort, at a recent American Heart Association conference in New Orleans.

Dr. Gerald Fletcher, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., said the findings could be applied in the real world: People who work in office buildings, for example, could take the stairs one way and the elevator the other, depending on what their exercise goals were.

Hiking uphill is concentric exercise, where muscles are shortened, which happens when you bend your arm or step upward. Going downhill is eccentric muscle work, such as extending your arm or actively resisting stretching, which happens when you step down.

The Austrian researchers tested both forms of exercise on 45 healthy people who normally exercised little. For the study, the participants took three to five hourlong hikes each week. For two months, they hiked uphill and rode the ski lift down. The next two months they took the lift up and hiked down.

Their blood sugar and cholesterol levels were checked before the study started and after each two-month exercise segment. They also were given tests to see how quickly and well their blood removed fats and sugar after each exercise phase.

The researchers were surprised to find that hiking downhill removed blood sugars and improved glucose tolerance, while uphill hiking mostly improved levels of fats called triglycerides.

This could be good news for diabetics, who often have trouble with concentric and many types of aerobic exercise, Dr. Drexel said. They may be better able to tolerate downhill hiking, and may get more out of it, too.

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