NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Findings from a small study suggest that the ability of exercise to reverse components of the metabolic syndrome is directly related to the intensity of training.

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of symptoms that together confer a high risk of developing heart disease or diabetes. The components include high blood pressure, high blood glucose levels, high triglyceride levels, a large waist measurement, and low levels of “good” HDL cholesterol.

In the current study, reported in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, aerobic interval training, performed at 90 percent of the highest measured heart rate, reduced 1.9 syndrome risk factors. In contrast, continuous moderate exercise, performed at 70 percent of maximum heart rate, reduced just 0.7 risk factors.

The results suggest that “exercise in general and aerobic interval training in particular is partly or fully able to reverse metabolic syndrome, suggesting that this may be a promising treatment strategy,” lead author Arnt Erik Tjonna, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, said in a statement.

However, “Guidelines calling for 30 minutes of exercise of moderate intensity may be too general for this population.”

The study involved 32 patients who got equal amounts of either aerobic interval training or continuous moderate exercise three times weekly for 16 weeks or were assigned to a control group.

In addition to the decrease in metabolic syndrome risk factors, aerobic interval training was associated with a greater increase in maximal oxygen uptake than was continuous moderate exercise.

No significant differences were noted between the exercise regimens in their ability to reduce blood pressure, body weight, and fat.

“We propose that high-intensity exercise training programs may yield more favorable results than programs with low to moderate intensities,” the investigators conclude.

SOURCE: Circulation, July 7th rapid access issue, 2008