Harvard Study Points to Exercise to Reduce the Risk of Diabetes

Tuesday, October 19th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

If you walk every day, there is a good chance you are reducing your risk of developing diabetes, according to a new study at Harvard University.

Experts call diabetes the epidemic of our time. It affects many people and has increased dramatically over the past few decades.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common. It occurs when the body fails to produce enough insulin or is unable to fully use the insulin it makes. Dr. Frank Hu, a research scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health, says most type 2 diabetic patients will have long-term complications including cardiovascular disease, eye disease and renal disease. “Because there is no cure, prevention is extremely important,” he said.
There is increasing evidence that physical activity reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. But until now, it was less clear whether moderate activities such as walking provide protection from the disease.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at more than 70,000 middle-aged women and found walking works. "We found both moderate intensity activity such as walking and the vigorous form of activity such as running can substantially reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes,” said Dr. Hu. “So it doesn't matter how you get the exercise. What's important is that you actually exercise,” he noted.

As the walking pace increased, the diabetes risk decreased. The women who walked at a brisk pace of around 3 miles per hour or morefor one hour a day had nearly half of the risk of developing diabetes compared to the least active women. The hour of daily walking can be spread in smaller chunks throughout the day. Harvard researchers say it can be done as part of a daily routine. "You can walk to a bus station rather than driving,” said Dr. Hu. “You can take the stairs rather than taking the elevator. You can accumulate substantial amounts of physical activity in daily life."

Since it’s the amount of energy and the type of exercise that's important, it takes less time each day for those who enjoy more vigorous physical activity to reap the benefits than it does for those who walk. Experts say both groups can benefit equally in their diabetes risk reduction. That's reassuring since, for many people, walking is the simplest, safest, and most accessible form of exercise.

Experts say physical activity including walking seems to reduce the risk of diabetes by helping the body use sugar more efficiently. Though the Harvard study focused only on women, researchers believe the same benefits apply to men.