Don't Stop, Keep Moving, Avoid Diabetes

Glycemic control is impaired by a lack of physical activity

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Why is the number of Americans with type 2 diabetes growing so quickly? Part of the answer may have to do with the amount we exercise.

Stopping regular exercise can cause blood sugar levels to go out of control, which is a major risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes.

"Get more exercise to avoid diabetes."

This finding suggests that exercise is an important part of maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, says John Thyfault, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri and the study's author. Thyfault adds that lowering the amount of daily activity can have negative effects even in the short term.

Thyfault said people who stop exercising regularly can experience changes to the body associated with diabetes before they gain any weight or become obese.

According to fitness expert James Crowell, "Exercise has so many benefits. The changes that I have seen in my athletes who have began or added workouts to their weekly regiments are fantastic. I have seen their demeanor become much more balanced. They are able to wake up energetic and maintain those levels throughout the day. I attribute a lot of those balanced energy levels to the glucose levels in their systems being better managed. When they exercise and eat a 'clean' diet their bodies are able to adapt to a much healthier lifestyle that they can maintain for the long run!"

For his study, Thyfault looked at how low levels of physical activity could increase levels of postprandial glucose (PPG), or the increases in blood sugar that happen after a person eats a meal. He found that healthy people who cut their physical activity in half for three days had twice the PPG response. In other words, their spikes in blood sugar after a meal doubled when they stopped exercising, putting them at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes as well as heart disease and death.

This study shows that exercise can have a direct effect on health problems that are avoidable, says Thyfault. Becoming inactive for even a short period of time, Thyfault continues, can quickly lead to unhealthy blood sugar levels. On the other hand, just a little bit of moderate exercise can improve how the body manages blood sugar.

In order to come to these conclusions, Thyfault studied activity levels and diets of healthy and moderately active young adults. The study's participants were told to cut their physical activity in half for three days while still eating the same diet that they ate when they were active. Participants wore continuous glucose monitors (blood sugar monitors) that showed much higher PPG levels during the period of inactivity.

Thyfault says that people should take about 10,000 steps per day. However, most people in the United States are only getting about 5,000 steps each day. This lack of activity leads to blood sugar problems and raises the risk for type 2 diabetes.

The study - which will appear in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise - was supported by the University of Missouri Institute for Clinical and Translational Sciences, the University of Missouri Research Council, and the National Institutes of Health.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 25, 2011
Last Updated:
August 30, 2011