Regular Exercise Cuts Diabetes Risk

By Fackelmann, Kathy A. | Science News, July 20, 1991 | Go to article overview

Regular Exercise Cuts Diabetes Risk


Fackelmann, Kathy A., Science News


An active lifestyle, including moderate-to-vigorous exercise, may prevent development of Type II diabetes, the sugar-processing disorder that generally strikes after age 40, according to a study published this week. The new finding may provide couch potatoes further incentive to turn off the TV and turn onto regular exercise, such as running, swimming or tennis.

Non-insulin-dependent diabetes -- the Type II form -- often involves insulin resistance, a disorder in whichs the body usually makes adequate amounts of insulin but its cells respond sluggishly to the hormone. The presence of insulin normally spurs cells to sop up sugar circulating in the bloodstream. This sugar removal is not as effective in Type II diabetics, so their blood sugar levels rise--a problem that can lead to life-threatening complications.

Previous studies indicated that physical exercise can counteract insulin resistance and improve the body's ability to metabolize sugar. Indeed, such reports led physicians to advise people diagnosed with Type II diabetes to begin a regular fitness regimen. Scientists also suspected that fitness might stave off Type II diabetes in healthy people, yet data on this were less than compelling.

Now a report in the July 18 NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE adds considerable evidence to the theory that regular exercise prevents Type II diabetes. "It's a very exciting paper," comments diabetes researcher Edward S. Horton, of the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington.

Epidemiologist Susan P. Helmrich of the University of California, Berkeley and her colleagues analyzed data collected from 5,990 initially non-diabetic men who had attended the University of Pennsylvania between 1928 and 1947. In 1962, researchers sent the men a questionnaire that asked about fitness habits, including sports such as jogging and tennis, and other aerobic activities such as walking up stairs. They then calculated the amount of energy expended per week on such leisure activities. …

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