Diabetics who exercise live much longer

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
diabetes, exercise, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, death
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It is common knowledge that regular exercise promotes cardiovascular health. However, a new study has reported that leisure-time physical activity can significantly reduce the risk of a cardiovascular event in individuals with type 2 diabetes. The findings were presented at the 48th Annual Meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD). The meeting runs from October 2 through October 5 in Berlin Germany.

The researchers derived their data from the Swedish National Diabetes Register (NDR). They found that, not surprisingly, type 2 diabetics who exercised regularly significantly reversed the risk of a heart attack or stroke. However, they also found that among diabetics who did little or no exercise at baseline, individuals who managed to substantially increase their leisure-time physical-activity levels over approximately five years slashed their risk of death by almost two-thirds.

Dr Björn Zethelius and colleagues reviewed data on leisure-time physical activity, which was recorded annually, from the more than 15,000 individuals with type 2 diabetes in the NDR. The men and women were grouped as either “low physical activity” (no regular exercise or exercise once per week) or “regular exercise” (between three times per week and daily exercise). If a patient died during the course of the study, his or her last recorded physical-activity level was used for the analysis. The researchers found that, over a five-year period, regular exercisers were significantly less likely to have a cardiovascular event or to die either from cardiovascular disease or any other cause.

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For diabetics who reported doing little or no physical activity at baseline but who managed to increase their regular exercise to at least three times per week by the end of the study period (average: 4.8 years), the benefits were even greater. Compared to subjects who did not improve their exercise habits, the number of cardiovascular deaths among diabetics who increased their exercise levels dropped 67%. Rates of all-cause mortality were reduced by almost the same degree.

The researchers pointed out that, in general, diabetics are considered to be less likely to engage in a regular exercise program than the general population. However, approximately 1,800 patients moved from a low physical-activity category into a higher physical-activity level over the course of the study.

Take home message:
The most significant finding of this study was the health benefits achieved by individuals who went from a sedentary lifestyle to one that included an exercise program. These benefits should likely apply to non-diabetics also. It’s never too late to enter into an exercise program.

Reference: 48th Annual Meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes

This page is updated on May 12, 2013.

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