April 28, 2003 -- Taking a brisk walk on a regular basis may help men with diabetes cut their risk of heart disease by more than a third. A new study shows even moderately intense physical activity can significantly reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and even death among men with type 2 diabetes.
Researchers say previous studies have highlighted the health benefits of moderate physical activity in healthy people, but this is one of a few studies to show similar benefits in people with diabetes.
The results appear in today's rapid access issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.
The study compared physical activity levels among 2,803 non-disabled men with type 2 diabetes who were enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study from 1986 to 1998. During 14 years of follow-up, there were 266 new cases of heart disease and 355 deaths from any cause among these men.
Researchers divided the men into five groups according to how often they participated in physical activities such as walking, running, lap swimming, and tennis. Compared with the least active group, men who were in the three most active groups had a 36% lower risk of heart disease and 43% lower risk of death. No further reductions in risk were found among the top two most active groups compared with the middle group.
Among walkers, men who walked at a brisk pace had a much lower risk of heart disease than those who walked at a casual pace. For example, men who briskly walked about four hours per week lowered their risk of death by 43%.
Researchers say that means walking seems to be just as effective in reducing the risk of heart disease as more intense forms of physical activity, as long as it is done regularly and at a non-leisurely pace.
"In a few cases, patients may be advised not to undertake certain types of physical activity," says researcher Mihaela Tanasescu, MD, ScD, associate professor in the College of Health Sciences at Touro University International in Cypress, Calif., in a news release. "But overall, risks associated with exercise are extremely low and benefits are considerable in individuals with type 2 diabetes."
In an editorial that accompanies the study, Jonathan Myers, PhD, of the Veterans Administration Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., says this study confirms previous research that shows even modest physical activity can produce significant health benefits.
"The findings from this study should encourage healthcare providers to recognize physical activity as part of the standard treatment for patients with glucose intolerance and established diabetes," writes Myers.