Activity Protects from Diabetes Risks

Diabetes risk factors reduced in Mexican Americans with higher levels of physical activity

December 12, 2012 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

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(dailyRx News) Exercise is key to staying healthy. If you exercise on a regular basis, you can lower your risk of a number of diseases, including heart disease and diabetes.

According to a recent study, higher levels of physical activity may improve a number of factors linked to diabetes. Results showed Mexican Americans who exercised more had fewer markers of diabetes risk.

Participants with higher levels of physical activity had 2-hour blood sugar levels (blood sugar 2 hours after drinking a glucose, or sugar, drink) within the normal range, while those with lower levels of physical activity had blood sugar levels nearly in the range of having diabetes.

"Stay active to help control your blood sugar."

Anny H. Xiang, PhD, of Kaiser Permanente Southern California, and colleagues set out to see how different levels of physical activity affected various measures of diabetes risk. They asked a population of Mexican Americans to report their weekly levels of physical activity.

The participants were then categorized into three groups according to guidelines from the US Department of Health and Human Services:

  • low physical activity - less than 75 minutes of vigorous exercise and less than 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week
  • moderate physical activity - 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous exercise and 150 to 300 minutes of moderate exercise per week
  • high physical activity - more than 300 minutes of moderate exercise per week

The researchers found that Mexican Americans who exercised more had lower levels of blood sugar and insulin as well as improved function in cells that make insulin.

Insulin and blood sugar play a central role in diabetes. Insulin is a hormone made by cells in the pancreas that helps turn sugar in the blood into energy for the body. Not enough insulin can cause blood sugar levels to rise, while too much insulin can lead to dangerously low blood sugar levels.

Among many other findings, the study showed:

  • men with low levels of physical activity had a 2-hour glucose level of 7.4 mmol/L.
  • men with moderate levels of physical activity had a 2-hour glucose level of 6.9 mmol/L.
  • men with high levels of physical activity had a 2-hour glucose level of 6.8 mmol/L.

A 2-hour glucose level of less than 7.8 is considered normal. Once a person reaches a 2-hour glucose of more than 11.1 mmol/L, that person is said to have diabetes.

According to the authors, the study's results suggest that physical activity can be beneficial to the function of β-cells (cells in the pancreas that make insulin) and control of blood sugar, whether or not people are obese.

The research included 1,152 Mexican American adults between 18 and 66 years of age. Of these, 501 (43 percent) had low levels of physical activity, 448 (39 percent) had moderate levels of physical activity and 203 (18 percent) had high levels of physical activity. The study was published December 5 in Diabetes Care, a journal of the American Diabetes Association.