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Guest Blog: Exercise Can Prevent Type 2 Diabetes

Monte Ladner, M.D. is board certified in anesthesiology and chronic pain management. He is a self-described “lifelong fitness freak” and enjoys talking and writing about the benefits of a healthy diet and regular exercise. To this end Dr. Ladner created the Fitness Rocks podcast in June 2006.

Fitness Rocks is a weekly audio podcast in which Dr. Ladner reviews the current medical research regarding the relationship between lifestyle habits and personal health. The podcast frequently includes interviews with the medical scientists who are doing the research work.

Monte Ladner M.D.

Monte Ladner M.D.There were many things that scared me and made permanent impressions on me during the year of my medical internship. One of these was the devastating nature of type 2 diabetes. It’s a brutal disease. Type 2 diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, as well as a major cause of kidney failure and heart disease. It increases the risk of cancer and it damages the blood flow to the legs making it a leading cause of lower extremity amputations.

In the 23 years since my internship there has been an enormous body of research work demonstrating that exercise is one of the most powerful tools we have to prevent or manage type 2 diabetes. In fact, the World Health Organization now estimates that 80 – 90% of all cases of type 2 diabetes could have been prevented by some very simple healthy lifestyle behaviors including a healthy diet, weight control, and regular exercise. Now that we know type 2 diabetes can be prevented by healthier lifestyle habits one would think that the incidence of the disease is declining – but instead it is epidemic.

Major risk factors for type 2 diabetes include being overweight, eating a poor diet, living a sedentary lifestyle, and having a family history of the disease.

People who begin to exercise significantly reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes even if they don’t lose weight. Exercise improves the sensitivity of muscle cells to the effects of insulin and this gets right at the heart of what type 2 diabetes is all about – a resistance to insulin. Skeletal muscle is the largest site of action of insulin in our body. A single bout of vigorous exercise improves insulin sensitivity in skeletal muscles, thereby improving the way our body maintains control of blood sugar.

A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2001 found that men who exercised the most had half the risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to men who exercised the least during a 10-year follow-up period. In the same study, men who watched the most television had nearly 3 times a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to men who watched the least television (Over 40 hours per week compared to less than 1 hour per week.)

The American Diabetes Association recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and 3 sessions per week of weight lifting, doing a routine that exercises all major muscle groups to prevent or improve the management of type 2 diabetes. That’s right; both aerobic exercise and weight training have a place in preventing or treating this disease. If you have not been exercising, you should consult with your personal doctor before starting, especially if you have existing medical problems like type 2 diabetes.

The American Diabetes Association website has more information on the role of lifestyle in preventing and treating type 2 diabetes.