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Exercise, Calcium-Rich Diet Cut Metabolic Syndrome Risk

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Adopting daily exercise sessions and a calcium-rich diet could reduce the risk of a group of health risk factors called the metabolic syndrome, finds a new study of Illinois adults.

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of symptoms — large abdominal girth, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and insulin insensitivity — that together signal a significantly higher risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

"As with many health conditions, when the good behaviors are absent, the condition is more prevalent," said Adam Reppert, lead study author.

Reppert is a clinical dietitian at Swedish Covenant Hospital in Chicago. The study appears in the November/December issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

In a 2005 telephone survey, 5,077 Illinois adults provided information about chronic health conditions, exercise habits and their intake of fruit, vegetables and other sources of calcium.

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Researchers then identified respondents with the condition.

"We found that metabolic syndrome was more prevalent in the older, less affluent population, in people with less education and in those who engaged in less physical activity, consumed calcium-rich foods less frequently and had hypertension and hypercholesterolemia," Reppert said.

In Illinois residents, just over 16 percent had the condition, lower than national estimates of 23.7 percent to 34.5 percent. Although national studies found a greater prevalence of the condition among Hispanics and whites, this study found the syndrome to be significantly more prevalent among blacks than whites or Hispanics.

Health behaviors also appeared to have a significant influence. The researchers found that adults who reported little or no daily exercise had nearly twice the risk of developing the condition.

In addition, adults who failed to consume calcium-rich foods regularly had about 1.5 times the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, compared to adults who ate calcium-rich diets.

"There are a lot of papers out there about the development of metabolic syndrome," said Steve Haffner, a professor in the department of medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. What's new and potentially useful is the authors' finding of a higher prevalence in lower-income, lower-education households, according to Haffner, who was not involved with the study.

For those with metabolic syndrome, a diagnosis does not mean they are destined for diabetes or heart disease. Rather, it is an opportunity for patients "to intervene to prevent heart disease or diabetes, because once you have those things they are irreversible, although manageable," Reppert said.