Physical activity benefits for diabetics: confirmed

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People with diabetes are at high risk of developing a number of adverse health effects, including cardiovascular disease (CVD) and premature mortality. However, mounting evidence suggests that increasing physical activity is vital to improving diabetics long-term health. And now a new study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, provides further support for the beneficial effects of such activity.

In a prospective study of nearly 6,000 patients with diabetes, European researchers found that higher levels of total physical activity, including physical leisure activity and walking, were associated with a lower risk of total and CVD mortality. The authors also included a meta-analysis of 12 previous studies to strengthen their results.

The findings demonstrated a clear benefit from exercise: Moderately active patients had a 38 percent decreased risk of premature death and a 49 percent decline in CVD mortality, compared to inactive participants. Less intense exercise, which included activities such as cycling, gardening, and household work, was also associated with a lower total mortality risk, while walking was found to reduce the risk of CVD mortality.

There is no doubt that physical activity is beneficial to overall health for diabetics and everyone else but as ACSH scientific advisor Dr. Jay Lehr, a senior scientist at Environmental Education Enterprises, observes, People should have recognized the common sense positive aspects of exercise long ago, but folks today really would far rather sit with their electronic gadgets than get up and move.

Although ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross agrees that we should place a greater emphasis on physical activity, he wonders whether doctors have the necessary amount of time to discuss this at great length with their diabetic patients. The majority of doctor visits are spent monitoring the effects of medications and evaluating the patient s vital signs, he says.

Not necessarily so, according to an editorial accompanying the new study. While acknowledging the problem, Dr. Mitchell H. Katz of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Sciences points out that a detailed physician s guide to writing an exercise prescription is available online. As he observes, None of the time I spend trying to decide whether to increase the dose or add a new medication for my patients with type 2 diabetes is likely to result in a 38 percent reduction in all-cause mortality.