Walk for Your Life! Diabetics benefit from moderate exercise

Men with type 2 diabetes can save their lives by walking, and the faster they walk the less likely they are to have a heart attack or stroke, according to new research.

“Previous studies found beneficial effects of physical activity in the general population, but this is one of the few studies on the benefits of physical activity in adults with diabetes,” says lead investigator Mihaela Tanasescu, MD. “That’s significant because diabetes greatly increases risk for cardiovascular disease.”

Tanasescu and her associates from the Harvard School of Public Health studied 2,803 non-disabled diabetic men who were assessed for physical activity every two years between 1986 and 1998 using questionnaires that asked about average time spent per week in activities such as walking, running, lap swimming and tennis.

In the study, diabetic men who were in the third highest of four categories of total physical activity reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease by 36% and their risk of death by 43% compared to those in the lowest level of physical activity. Men in the highest category of walking (equivalent to four hours of brisk walking in a week) reduced their risk of death by 43%. Men who walked at a brisk or very brisk pace had a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease as compared to men who walked at a casual pace. Thus, while high amounts of energy expenditure or vigorous exercise may not be required, walking appears to reduce risk when performed regularly and at a fast pace.

The benefits of physical activity in this study were significant, but Tanasescu says diabetic patients should consult their physicians before beginning an exercise program. “In a few cases, patients may be advised not to undertake certain types of physical activity,” she says. “But overall, risks associated with exercise are low and benefits are considerable in individuals with type 2 diabetes.”

American Heart Association, Apr 29, 2003