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Feb. 6 2010 12:00 AM

Many of the health benefits of aerobic exercise are due to the most recent exercise session (rather than weeks, months and even years of exercise training), and the nature of these benefits can be greatly affected by the food we eat afterwards, according to a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Specifically, the study found that exercise enhanced insulin sensitivity, particularly when meals eaten after the exercise session contained relatively low carbohydrate content. Enhanced insulin sensitivity means that it is easier for the body to take up sugar from the blood stream into tissues like muscles, where it can be stored or used as fuel. Impaired insulin sensitivity (i.e., "insulin resistance") is a hallmark of Type II diabetes, as well as being a major risk factor for other chronic diseases, such as heart disease.

Interestingly, when the research subjects in this study ate relatively low-calorie meals after exercise, this did not improve insulin sensitivity any more than when they ate enough calories to match what they expended during exercise. This suggests that you don't have to starve yourself after exercise to still reap some of the important health benefits.

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