Daily activity can help prevent insulin resistance and diabetes

There were 2.7 million cases of diabetes diagnosed in South Africa in 2014. As most of us already know, diabetes can reduce lifespan, affects quality of life, and may lead to complications like kidney failure, heart disease, nerve damage, ketoacidosis and eye disorders. Pre-diabetes (or insulin resistance)the gateway to type 2 diabetesoften goes undiagnosed. There’s some good news though. Mounting evidence suggests that daily activity may lower and even reverse insulin resistance and help prevent diabetes.

What kind of activity and for how long? What the research is saying…

1) A study published in PLOS ONE (2013) found that one hour of daily physical exercise does not compensate for the negative effects of inactivity on insulin level and plasma lipids if the rest of the day is spent sitting. The study also found that, when the amount of calories burned is the same, reducing inactivity by increasing time spent walking/standing is more effective than one hour of physical exercise. 

[Study details: 18 healthy young adults; find the full study here.]

 2) Though any type of physical activity has the potential to make your insulin more effective, writes Sheri R. Colberg, Associate Professor of Exercise Science at Old Dominion University (Virginia, USA) and author of The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan: Living Well and Being Fit with Diabetes, Regardless of Your Weight, it appears that near-daily activity is required to see real results. In an article for Diabetes SelfManagement.com, Colberg explains that both more intense and longer duration, moderate exercise tend to have a longer-lasting effect on insulin action than a short, low-intensity activity (like weeding a small garden) – yet this still lasts only one to two days. “Therefore, to improve insulin sensitivity on a continuing basis,” she says, “you should plan on exercising at least every other day, with near-daily workouts exerting an even more beneficial effect.” 

3) A study published in International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity (2013) also found that daily physical activity was associated with lower insulin resistance – even if it that activity was not sufficient to induce weight loss or improve cardiovascular fitness. This is an especially important insight for those who have difficulty achieving or maintaining weight loss (often a key recommendation in lifestyle plans for those suffering with diabetes) and for those who are put off by vigorous exercise regimens.

[Sample details: Assessment of 402 healthy American adults under the age of 49; find the full study here.]

4) A study published in Diabetes Care (2013) found that taking three short walks at a moderate pace each day after meals was as effective at reducing blood sugar over 24 hours as a single 45-minute walk at the same pace. The study also found that an evening post-meal walk was the most effective in lowering blood sugar levels for the full 24 hours, when compared to both the 45-minute morning and afternoon exercise sessions.

[Sample details: 10 non-smoking participants over the age of 60 with pre-diabetes; find the full study here.]

5) A study in Diabetologia (2014) suggests interval training while walking may be better than walking at a constant speed in helping to manage blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. The researchers are not 100% sure why this is the case but think that the switch between intensities may have a particular influence on the uptake of glucose by the muscles.

[Sample details: 32 adults with type 2 diabetes, not using insulin; paid access to the full study here.] 

Fortunately there are a number of ways to increase your level of daily activity…

More common suggestions include taking the stairs rather than the lift; bagging the furthest parking spot at the mall so you increase time spent walking; walking or biking to work (if possible) and to the store; standing while talking on the phone; encouraging “walking meetings”; and walking while waiting for your plane at the airport.

A treadmill desk is a relatively easy, and very effective, way to dramatically increase your level of daily activity – and negate the effects of sitting all day at the office.

One reason we love the treadmill desk is that you don’t have to put aside extra time for walking. You walk while working, alternating with seated rests. And if walking at work is not an option, you can always walk at home while doing social activities you’d usually do seated, like surfing the Net, dabbling on Facebook, editing photos, and calling/Skyping friends and family (see how this treadmill desk convert goes about it).

Introducing a treadmill desk into your life also means you don’t need steely willpower to get moving. It’s easy to let trips to the gym slip as work (or life) becomes busy. Getting to the gym can also feel that much harder in the winter months, when we tend to crave comfort and warmth and migrate to a slower pace of life. Incorporating a treadmill desk into what you’re already doing at work or home means you can maintain healthy daily levels of physical activity.

A treadmill desk is also really useful if you want to take that post-dinner stroll (as recommended above) but can’t get outdoors due to safety or weather concerns… and, of course, it allows you to easily vary your speed.


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