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More Exercise Equals Greater Benefits for Diabetics

Source: Diabetes Care, June 2005

More Exercise Equals Greater Benefits for Diabetics

People with type 2 diabetes can significantly improve their health and reduce medical costs by walking at least three miles each day, according to Italian researchers.

Researchers have known for years that increased physical activity can greatly increase the health of people with diabetes by reducing the risk of heart disease and helping to prevent other diabetes-related complications. The new study homes in on precisely how much exercise it takes to achieve specific improvements in blood sugar levels, as well as blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Researchers looked at data from 179 type 2 diabetic subjects who participated in a physical activity intervention. They found that it took a minimum of walking about three miles per day for otherwise sedentary diabetics to see noteworthy improvement in their health as well as medical-related expenses over a 2-year period.

In contrast, those who were inactive over the study period saw a decline in health and a rise in medical expenses.

On average, those who increased their aerobic activity by 38 minutes per day – walking about 2.2 miles or 4400 steps — even if they didn’t lose weight — saw noteworthy reductions in blood sugar, total cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure. They also reduced their risk of coronary heart disease by more than 2-fold and annual medical costs by $288.

The greatest improvements in health and medical costs accrued by walking — upping physical activity by roughly 83 minutes per day — walking 5.3 miles or 10,600 steps per day — over the 2-year period.

In the journal Diabetes Care, Dr. Pierpaolo De Feo and colleagues from the University of Perugia say their results support that general recommendations of at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days are “also valid for type 2 diabetic subjects and demonstrate a significant dose-response relationship.”

In a commentary, Dr. James O. Hill, from the University of Colorado, Denver, says the results “provide an optimistic message about physical activity and type 2 diabetes. Just remember that when it comes to physical activity, every little bit helps,” he writes, and even an extra 2000-2500 steps per day will bring measurable improvements in health for most people.