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Exercise Helps Diabetics Live Longer

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WebMD Health News

April 18, 2000 -- Exercise, exercise, exercise. You've been assaulted with study after study showing the benefits that regular exercise offers your heart. However, new study results suggest that regular physical activity may have an additional benefit for the 15 million Americans with type 2 diabetes -- it may help them live longer.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body can't make enough or properly use insulin, the hormone needed to maintain blood sugar levels. Often, type 2 diabetes can be controlled by losing weight, improved nutrition, and exercise alone, but sometimes oral medications and/or insulin must be used.

However, researchers found that type 2 diabetics who did not exercise were more likely to die during a 12-year period than were their more active, physically fit counterparts, according to a study in the April 18 issue of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

Experts not affiliated with the study praise the new findings because they emphasize the importance of regular exercise in the treatment and prevention of diabetes.

Regular exercise promotes weight loss, improves blood sugar control, and lowers blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, but its benefits appear to extend beyond its effect on these heart disease risk factors for people with diabetes.

"Patients with type 2 diabetes should participate in regular physical activity," lead researcher Ming Wei, MD, tells WebMD. "The current public health recommendation of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week would also be suitable for patients with type 2 diabetes." Wei is a clinical epidemiologist at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas.

But, Wei cautions, "we suggest patients with type 2 diabetes who plan to begin an exercise program see their doctors first." (Click here to determine your exercise heart rate.)

The researchers found that among more than 1,200 men with type 2 diabetes, those who did not exercise and did not perform well on an exercise stress test were about twice as likely to die over the following 12 years than men who exercised.

"Exercise is such an important part in the treatment of diabetes," Barry J. Goldstein, MD, tells WebMD. "It helps manage the condition when a person has it and clearly prevents it from happening among people at high risk for the disease." He is director of the division of endocrinology and metabolic disorders at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.

Getting started is the hardest part, he says. "People always say they feel better when they are exercising. The type of exercise plan that you can stick to is one that can be incorporated into your daily routine -- whether walking to the office, walking to the car, or even walking around the house."

In an editorial accompanying the new study, Charles M. Clark Jr., MD, writes that "general admonishments to get more exercise are as unlikely to work as general advice to eat less or stop smoking. Specific programs need to be prescribed, and follow-up is essential." He is with the Richard Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis.

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People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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