For Diabetes Patients, Exercise Is a Life Saver

Diabetes patients who got moderate physical activity had lower chances of heart disease related death

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Heart disease and stroke are the main causes of death and disability in people with diabetes. Exercise, however, has proven to be a great way to lower that risk.

Physical activity at a moderate to vigorous level can help people lower blood pressure, lose weight and reduce cardiovascular risks, according to the American Heart Association.

Confirming the health benefits of exercise, a new study found that individuals with diabetes faced a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and other causes the more they exercised.

"Talk to your doctor about working regular exercise into your schedule to lower heart risks."

Mark Hamer, PhD, a researcher with the Physical Activity Research Group, Division of Population Health and the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London, and his colleagues analyzed information on 3,038 people with diabetes from Scottish and English health surveys conducted between 1997 and 2008.

The participants were all age 50 or older at the start of the investigation, and they were followed for an average of just over six years. By the end of the study, 675 of the subjects had died, and the cause was cardiovascular disease in 270.

To assess levels of physical activity, Dr. Hamer and team focused on three types of activity:

  • walking
  • sports and exercise
  • domestic activity, which included heavy manual housework, gardening  and “do-it-yourself” activities that lasted 30 minutes or more

These researchers evaluated walking intensity by pace (slow, average, fast), and they assessed sports and exercise by frequency, duration and type (swimming, football, rugby, aerobics, cycling, etc.).

The researchers set a physical activity recommendation of at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise. A total of 40 percent of participants met the physical activity recommendation, but one third reported zero physical activity.

Those who met the activity recommendation had a 35 percent lower death rate compared to those who were inactive. Even those who reported some activity but below the recommended amount had a 26 percent lower death rate.

Sarah Samaan, MD, cardiologist and physician partner at the Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano, Texas, told dailyRx News, “It's encouraging that even modest exercise can lower risk a full 25 percent. This study shows us that for people with diabetes, the effects of exercise are at least as powerful as medical therapy, with a far lower cost and in most cases no negative side effects.”

She added that while people of all ages and abilities, and with many different medical conditions, can usually benefit from exercise, it's important to check in with your doctor before starting a new program.

“And once you get started, stick with it,” she said. “In order for exercise to make a difference, it needs to become part of your life.”

The authors of this study noted that higher physical activity was associated with lower mortality, but there was no association between domestic physical activity and cardiovascular disease mortality.

“Compared with those individuals not undertaking physical activity, the greatest reduction in the risks of both all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease mortality were observed in those meeting the physical activity recommendations,” they wrote.

This study was published in April in Diabetes Care.

Review Date: 
April 10, 2014
Last Updated:
April 11, 2014