• horse;
  • exercise training;
  • insulin-mediated glucose disposal;
  • skeletal muscle GLUT-4;
  • glycogen;
  • hexokinase;
  • glycogen synthase


Reasons for performing study: Increased insulin sensitivity occurs after a period of exercise training, but the mechanisms underlying this training-associated increase in insulin action have not been investigated.

Objective: To examine the effects of short-term endurance training (7 consecutive days) and a subsequent period of inactivity (5 days) on whole body insulin sensitivity and GLUT-4 protein and the activities of glycogen synthase (GS) and hexokinase (HK) in skeletal muscle. It was hypothesised that training would increase insulin sensitivity in association with increased GLUT-4 protein and activities of GS and HK, but that these changes would be transient, returning to baseline after 5 days of inactivity.

Methods: Seven mature Standardbred horses completed training consisting of 7 consecutive days of 45 min of treadmill exercise at a speed that elicited 55% of pretraining maximal aerobic capacity (VO2peak). Insulin sensitivity was determined by rate of glucose disposal (M) during the last 60 min of a 120 min euglycaemic-hyperinsulinaemic clamp (EHC) performed before (-2 days) and at 1 and 6 days following training. VO2peak was measured before (UT) and after (TR) training and the period of inactivity (IA).

Results: Training resulted in a 9% increase in mean VO2peak (P<0.05) that was maintained following inactivity (IA). Mean M values were more than 2-fold higher (P<0.05) in TR than in UT. Mean M was also higher (P<0.05) in IA when compared to UT. GLUT-4 protien abundancewas more than 10-fold higher in TR and IA (P<0.001) than in UT. Pre-EHC GS activity and GS fractional velocity were increased (P<0.05) in TR when compared to UT and IA. Pre-EHC HK activity was increased (P<0.05) in IA when compared to UT and TR. Muscle glycogen was 66% lower (P<0.05) in TR than in UT and IA.

Conclusions: Short-term training resulted in increases in whole body insulin sensitivity, and GLUT-4 protein content and glycogen synthase activity in skeletal muscle. The enhancements in insulin sensitivity, GLUT-4 protein and glycogen synthase activity were still evident after 5 days of inactivity.

Potential relevance: Insulin resistance in equids has been associated with obesity and predisposition to laminitis. Regular physical activity may mitigate risk of these conditions via enhancement of insulin sensitivity and/or control of bodyweight.